A bird that’s rare in these parts, a snowy owl, will fly today – by plane – from Huntersville’s Carolina Raptor Center to Vermont for release back into the wild.
The young male was trapped at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, where he was a potential danger to aircraft, and brought to the Huntersville center on Dec. 14. He arrived skinny and covered in feather lice, but otherwise in good condition. After treatment, the owl was soon flying effortlessly in an outdoor cage.
The owl will be banded and released Tuesday at a wildlife refuge, where other snowy owls have been seen, by the Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Queechee.
The large, powerful birds breed in summer in the high Arctic tundra and are colored as camouflage for northern winters. Some spend winters in southeastern Canada, the Upper Great Lakes states and New England.
But snowy owls have been reported several times this winter from the Piedmont to the Outer Banks, making their first appearances in several years. Ornithologists had predicted what is called an “irruption” of snowy owls across the U.S., a rare but not new event.
In the winter of 2013-14, the website Project Snow Storm reports, snowy owls were seen as far south as Florida and Bermuda. It’s believed that irruptions follow years in which the owls’ summer prey, such as lemmings and voles, are in great abundance. That in turn leads to larger numbers of eggs laid by the owls.
The snowy owl was the second one the Carolina Raptor Center had treated this winter. The other – the first the center had treated in its history of more than 40 years – came in severely emaciated and with a fungal infection of the air sacs. That bird died within a few days.