WSU vets caring for snowy owl with broken wing

PULLMAN, Wash. -- A snowy owl who collided with a car thousands of miles away from home is now in the care of veterinarians at Washington State University.

The Arctic bird was found "hopping on the ground" with a broken wing in Spokane in late November.

State Fish and Wildlife Officer Curt Wood, while wearing heavy-duty gloves, attempted to handle Tundra. The gloves proved too thin for Tundra's sharp grip, Wood said, but "my cuff and wristwatch band stopped his talons from going in."

Wood said he considered killing the bird as he knew it would not survive in the wild. But then he had a change of heart.

"The owl was very beautiful, and it just looked at me with those big yellow eyes, blinking them from time to time," he said. "It seemed to be totally at ease with me, as if it knew that I was going to save it, so I didn't have the heart to put it down."

With Tundra in tow, Wood drove to his house to fetch a carrier box. The drive lasted some 10 minutes, during which time the owl sat still on Wood's lap,"just like a dog taking a nap, and it blinked its large yellow eyes at me as though totally content," he said.

Tundra was treated by a veterinarian, then taken to WSU's Raptor Rehabilitation Center where experts determined he would never be able to fly again.

Life at the center

Experts don't know how the snowy owl ended up in Eastern Washington in the first place.

"We know the owls had a very high reproduction season," said Denver Holt, a wildlife biologist who runs the nonprofit Owl Institute in Montana. "My guess is that there are now so many of them that the juveniles are getting pushed south. Before long, they find themselves thousands of miles away in Washington, Nebraska and elsewhere."

Whatever the case, it appears Tundra is now home. His life at the rehabilitation center includes hand-fed meals, as well as a fan and a bowl of ice to keep him cool.

"He's always standing in it, with his feathers ruffling in the breeze from the fan," said WSU veterinarian Nickol Finch.

And then there are his neighbors -- a giant bearded dragon and an Amazon parrot, who are also residents at the ward for wildlife and exotic animals. Tundra is kept inside a Plexiglas enclosure.

Amid strange creatures, the snowy owl has been making quite an impression.

"He's got those big yellow eyes and is gentle, as far as raptors go," said Finch. "People find him captivating."