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Lending a hand and feeling owl-right

If you thought the cold winter was hard on you, think about how the birds feel. Wellesley Township animal control officer Evelyn Hahn rescued an injured snowy owl in Linwood this week, far from its usual habitat.

This snowy owl was found injured in Linwood over the Easter weekend and was transported to the Owl Foundation in Niagara to be rehabilitated.[Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
This snowy owl was found injured in Linwood over the Easter weekend and was transported to the Owl Foundation in Niagara to be rehabilitated. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
“It’s been so cold they can’t find food up North so they came down here,” Hahn said. “Last year we saw a lot of them. It was because of the hard winter and lots of snow drove them down here for food.”

Linwood residents were treated to an influx of the northerly creatures last year, often spotting them sitting on top of silos to get grain, or searching for mice from hydro wires.

The owl was found by farmers in a wooded area on Buehler Line over the Easter weekend. Despite owls not being Hahn’s expertise, she was eager to retrieve the bird.

“This was the first one for me as animal control,” Hahn said. “We just thought we’d help a bit and we wanted to see it too. They didn’t know what to do.”

The township has a volunteer who’s knowledgeable about wildlife so Hahn gave her a call about how to safely rescue the bird, as snowy owls aren’t exactly known for having small wings or talons. A while back residents became concerned when a Canadian goose was seen in the same spot in a field all winter. She went out and saw it had a broken wing, so she gave it food and water.

Hahn and her husband, along with some of the farmers and their kids went out to the field by tractor and bicycle. They surrounded the owl and put her in a dog kennel, without much fuss.

“It was funny when we were going after her, she didn’t have to turn to see where we all were,” Hahn said in reference to the bird’s ability to spin its head around.

The owl was taken to the Owl Foundation in the Niagara Peninsula on Monday to be rehabilitated. If her injury prevents her from being able to fly again she’ll stay at the shelter.

John Conrad, a volunteer driver with the foundation picked her up. He said they have 30 or 40 owls at the foundation and probably one of every kind. He got involved with the foundation through his girlfriend’s friend.

“It’s a foundation so they have board members and you can belong to the Owl Foundation by contributing money to them,” Conrad said. “They don’t have any other income. I don’t think they get any help from anybody else. I went there on an invitation and left my name as a volunteer. They’ve phoned me three times now. I’ve taken three of them from out around here. It doesn’t happen every day, maybe once a year.”

Owls that are injured, starving, or diseased are brought to the foundation to be nursed back to health. The charitable organization also helps orphaned owl chicks by matching them up with adult owls that have to stay at the shelter because of permanent disabilities. Some of the owls are also allowed to breed.

This owl will be brought right back to where she was found if and when she’s healed, where hopefully she can be reunited with her partner.

“The farmers, they’re out this time of year,” Hahn said. “They’re in the bushes, cleaning up their maple syrup pails and getting ready for spring and they were watching these two. They were quite entertaining for the winter.”

Employees at the foundation estimate she’s about two years old. It’s still uncertain if she will be able to return to the wild because it appears her injury happened a couple weeks ago. The Owl Foundation is the only organization in North America that breeds and fosters wild owls until they can be released back into the wild.

“We have seen so many last and this year, more than we’ve ever seen before,” Hahn said.

They did x-rays on her on Tuesday and will go from there. Despite being enclosed in the dog kennel while waiting for Conrad to take her to Niagara, she was quiet and only panted a little, which is how owls demonstrate stress.

“Her eyes were just beautiful. She didn’t take them off us. I just was hoping I didn’t look like a furry little mouse,” Hahn said with a laugh.

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