Operation Wildlife rescues injured snowy owl in Lawrence

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An injured snowy owl near 31st and Iowa Monday, Jan 2, 2012, was rescued by Operation Wildlife.

Founded in 1989, Operation Wildlife, or OWL, provides rehabilitation and veterinary services for injured and orphaned wild animals. It also provides wildlife education for residents of northeast Kansas and northwest Missouri.

OWL receives thousands of animals each year, and the release rate averages about 69 percent, which is higher than the national average of 49 percent.

As a not-for-profit organization, it relies on donations and volunteers to stay open. To learn more about the organization or to make a donation, visit owl-online.org or call 542-3625. The mailing address is: 23375 Guthrie Road, Linwood, KS 66052.

About a dozen people took pictures and watched over an injured snowy owl today in the parking lot of the Jayhawk Station post office, 1901 W. 31st St., as they waited for Operation Wildlife to arrive.

Darrell Huff, Lawrence, said he had just pulled into the post office about 2 p.m. when he saw the large bird fall and hit the concrete. He believed it flew into the power lines above.

Gary Crain, of Overland Park and a volunteer with Operation Wildlife, rescues an injured snowy owl Monday afternoon at the Jayhawk Station post office, 1901 W. 31st St.

“I drove over to see what it was, and when I got closer, it sort of rolled over and I could tell it had a broken wing,” he said.

Margaret Uhler, 11, and her dad, Bill, of Lawrence, also saw the bird fall as they were driving by and were the next on the scene. They called the police department and then Operation Wildlife.

“I love animals,” Margaret said, shivering in the 36-degree weather. “I hope it’s going to be OK.”

Within 30 minutes, Gary Crain, an Operation Wildlife volunteer, pulled up in a van along with Meghan Carey, an intern. Crain scooped up the owl with his gloves and put it in a cage in the back of the van. He said it was the first snowy owl that he had seen in his nine years at Operation Wildlife. The large birds typically nest in the Arctic tundra of the northernmost stretches of Alaska, Canada and Eurasia.

“It’s pretty unusual for them to come this far south for food, but that means food is pretty scarce,” he said.

Diane Johnson, executive director of Operation Wildlife, said it was only the second time she had taken care of a snowy owl in 30 years.

“It’s a very cool bird, and it’s lucky that it got injured where it did because people actually saw him,” she said.

Johnson said the owl has a midshaft humeral fracture of the left wing. Today, they immobilized the fracture, treated him for shock and started antibiotics. Tuesday, he will go to the vet, where he will receive X-rays and probably surgery. She expects his rehabilitation to take about three months, and then he will be released.

It was only Carey’s second day on the job as an intern, and she felt blessed to have been part of the rescue.

“They are extremely rare so I was very, very excited,” she said. “I feel honored that I am able to have such a great experience.”