Oil doesn’t mix with a lot of things, and you can add owls to the list.
A snowy owl found on December 3 sitting on top of a mound of material at a Milwaukee recycling center had its feathers so fouled with diesel it couldn’t fly.
And her typical bright white coloring was a dull brown.
âShe was very dirty and looked miserable,â said Crystal Sharlow-Schaefer, director of wildlife at the Wisconsin Humane Society in Milwaukee. “And the oil had soaked through his feathers and destroyed pretty much all of their insulating capacity.”
As a result, the bird, already stressed by what was likely a 1,000+ mile migration from the Arctic, was hypothermic, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
To make matters worse, in an effort to clean its feathers, the bird ingested some of the oil and some other unknown slime it picked up.
Luckily for the owl, staff at the WHS Wildlife Rehabilitation Center were made aware of the bird’s existence on Friday and a volunteer was able to capture it and bring it in for treatment.
Initial examination at the center showed the bird to be very weak and in respiratory distress.
Subsequent evaluations also revealed severe abrasions and bruises on its wings, likely due to attempted flights after being smeared with oil.
âShe most likely wasn’t going to survive the night there,â Sharlow-Schaefer said.
The bird, determined to be a first year female, was sedated so that it could be meticulously cleaned and dried by center staff.
Birds of the far north, snowy owls have layers of feathers to insulate themselves from head to toe.
Every year at least a few snowies fly south from their arctic breeding grounds.
And to the delight of wildlife watchers, some years feature “outbreaks” of several hundred birds in the United States.
After a slow start this year, a recent wave of snow fell in Wisconsin, according to Ryan Brady, conservation biologist with the Department of Natural Resources.
The agency reported at least 72 owls in 30 counties in Wisconsin as of December 1, more than each of the three years prior to that date.
Sightings of great white owls have been made at Trempealeau in the west, downtown Madison in the south, and at many locations along the Lake Michigan shore, including 12 at a single site in the lower part of the Green Bay.
At least two were also seen this month in Milwaukee.
In 2017, which was considered a year of irruption, 124 had been documented in early December.
More snows are likely on their way and will tell this winter’s story, Brady said.
Since birds spend the vast majority of their lives in the wild, they often show no fear of humans. They also have little or no experience in human-built environments.
Wildlife experts advise people to allow space for birds if they encounter them and allow them to hunt undisturbed. Birds feed on mice and other rodents as well as water birds.
The snow that ended up in the Milwaukee recycling center is a good example of the problems these wild birds of the Far North can face in urban areas, said Sharlow-Schaefer.
âTry to imagine flying around buildings and landing on things you’ve never encountered before,â Sharlow-Schaefer said.
The young snowy female responded positively to the treatment. On Tuesday he was eating well (whole, dead mice), Sharlow-Schaefer said.
And it started to show “the proper nerve and attitude wild animals have towards their keepers, something they are always grateful to see in wild patients,” the WHS said in a statement Tuesday.
The owl’s prognosis is guarded, however, as it is still healing from its wounds and gaining strength, according to the WHS.
Wildlife center staff plan to clean the bird again in the coming days.
âShe’s on the right path now,â said Sharlow-Schaefer. “My fingers crossed, she can be released this winter and live in the wild again.”