Snowy owl dies of lead poisoning
Article Date: 2006-12-18 Source: http://www.billingsgazette.net
By Clair Johnson
Bozeman, Montana, U.S.A. - A snowy owl being treated for lead poisoning at the Montana Raptor Conservation Center in Bozeman has died.
A blood sample from the owl showed the toxicity of its blood was seven times the lethal limit for lead poisoning, said John Bell, a center volunteer who helped care for the sick owl. An X-ray showed the owl had four pellets from lead shot.
''The lead poisoning had taken effect and killed it,'' he said on Monday.
The owl died Dec. 6, two days after arriving at the center from northeastern
Montana. Bell went to check on it and found the owl dead in its cage.
"That was a sad day all around. This animal had so much fight. I felt really
excited about this, being able to help get this owl back into the wild," Bell
The owl also had fractured wing. The break was lined up fairly well and the wing
appeared to be healing naturally, he said.
Snowy owls are big, white raptors that breed in the Arctic tundra and winter on
grasslands and marshes mostly in Canada. Snowies sometimes wander into the
northern United States during the winter in search of food. The owls hunt
rodents and perch in open fields and on fence posts, rocks and other objects
near the ground. Snowies can weighh up to two pounds and are about 2 feet tall
with wing spans up to 66 inches.
This snowy owl, a female, was found Nov. 28 about 300 feet outside the Medicine
Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which is located 45 miles north of Culbertson.
Sean Cross, the refuge's assistant manager, said two hunters came into the
office and reported finding the owl. The hunters were concerned because it
couldn't fly, he said. Cross and another person caught it late in the day.
The owl was feisty but, Cross said, there was no blood that would have indicated
an injury. "Dang, that's too bad," Cross said when learning the bird had died.
A volunteer drove the owl to the East Main Animal Clinic in Miles City.
Dr. Jean Lindley, a veterinarian at the clinic, checked the owl on Nov. 30 and
helped arrange to have it transferred the rehabilitation center in Bozeman. She
said there was no evidence of external injuries and the owl seemed to be in good
Lindley has handled wild birds before but never a snowy owl. "It's the first and
only one I've ever seen," she said. "He was a nasty bird, which is actually
The owl could have been shot or it could have ingested lead pellets by feeding
on something that had been shot, she said.
The next leg of owl's journey brought it to the Moore Lane Veterinary Hospital
in Billings on Dec. 3. X-rays there showed pellets in the bird, but they didn't
appear to be interfering with anything, technician Robyn Bartz said. The owl
flapped its wings. Its feet and eyes were fine.
Because there didn't seem to be a reason to continue holding the owl, a staffer
released it in Riverfront Park. Owls usually don't fly away immediately and
often stand a while before taking off, Bartz said. When a staffer returned to
check on the owl, it was gone.
The owl, however, had been recaptured by Kayhan Ostovar, president of the
Yellowstone Valley Aububon Society and employee with the Montana Department of
Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Responding to a call that dogs were attacking a snowy
owl believed to be injured, Ostovar immediately went to investigate and captured
The owl went back to the Moore Lane hospital where it stayed until arrangements
were made with the raptor center to pick up the bird on Dec. 4.
Despite its ordeal, the owl was not emaciated by the time it arrived in Bozeman,
although its wings were drooping, Bell said earlier. The owl underwent calcium
treatments to try to help its body rapidly expel lead from the blood and
Federal laws make it illegal to possess migratory birds without authorization.
People who find sick or injured birds are urged to contact the FWP or the
Yellowstone Valley Audubon Society, which arranges transportation of sick or
injured wild birds to qualified veterinarians or rehabilitation centers.
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