Snowy owl hit by car in Stratford now an 'ambassador' at CT rehab center

Photo of Jesse Leavenworth
Otsi, a snowy owl that was hit by a car in Stratford, is now a permanent resident and "ambassador bird" at a rehabilitation and education center in Killingworth.  

Otsi, a snowy owl that was hit by a car in Stratford, is now a permanent resident and "ambassador bird" at a rehabilitation and education center in Killingworth.

 

A Place Called Hope

A snowy owl that was hit by a car in Stratford late last year will never fly again, but the radiant white raptor is a natural star and the newest "ambassador bird" at a rehabilitation and education center.

Otsi, from a Native American word for White Ghost, suffered severe head and wing injuries when he was found flailing in the road in December and brought to A Place Called Hope in Killingworth. Born only last year, the young owl has recovered, but part of his right wing had to be amputated, so he has found a permanent home, center director Christine Cummings said.

"Our hearts break for his loss of freedom," the center posted on Facebook recently, "but our hearts rejoice for him to adjust and adapt to his new captive role as a teacher."

Typically in Connecticut and other points south of their Arctic homes, snowy owls are seen along the shoreline, at airports or on flat-roofed buildings, treeless areas that remind them of their native habitat. Whenever they are spotted, crowds with cameras descend on the place, which is not good for the birds,

Many of the migrant owls are still learning to hunt and conserve energy in cold weather, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. When people get too close, the owls may fly and deplete already low energy reserves. Also, people getting too close can scare away rodents and other prey.

"While a single incident may not have long-lasting impacts, it is possible to love 'snowys' to death," DEEP said in a news release. "The cumulative impact of prolonged or repeated stress may weaken the bird enough that it cannot survive the winter."

Less than 100,000 snowy owls are left in the world, with about 28,000 or fewer breeding pairs, according to the latest estimates. Southward migrations typically happen when lemmings, the owls' primary source of food, are not as plentiful in the far north, according to Beardsley Zoo Director Gregg Dancho,

Besides rodents, snowy owls also eat ducks and seabirds. The males, which are often all white, are smaller than the females with a wingspan of up to five feet.

Otsi will be trained to stand on a person's gloved hand and will be part of the center's educational program, Cummings said. The birds have been known to live to almost 30 years in captivity, so he will be a longtime teacher, she said.

Cummings noted that the Arctic owls, which she called "intensely gorgeous," have become even more popular since the Harry Potter movies featured a snowy named Hedwig.

"They're so bright," Cummings said, "their light coloration with big yellow eyes. ... They are stunning creatures."