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Snowy owl at rescue in Sycamore

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(David Thomas – dthomas@shawmedia.com)
Christy Gerbitz, the operations manager at Oaken Acres Wildlife Center in Sycamore, feeds Frosty the snowy owl. Frosty was found lying on the ground in DeKalb, severely malnourished and dehydrated. The center is taking care of him until he gets better.

SYCAMORE – Frosty the snowy owl likely didn’t want to come to DeKalb.

The young owl, which bears a striking resemblance to the delivery owls in the Harry Potter movie series, was found severely dehydrated and malnourished Nov. 20 on the ground near the intersection of First Street and Lincoln Highway in DeKalb. He also might have suffered a concussion.

DeKalb County Animal Control took him to Oaken Acres Wildlife Center in Sycamore, where operations manager Christy Gerbitz just about fell over when she saw him. A staff member’s child named him Frosty.

“They’re not common animals in this area, so it’s been a privilege to work with this one,” Gerbitz said. “... Something pretty critical happened out there to bring him here and put him in the condition he was in.”

Snowy owls generally live in Arctic regions – Alaska, Scandinavia, Greenland, Canada and Russia, according to the Lincoln Park Zoo’s website. If prey is scarce, they’ll fly south in the winter in search of small mammals, such as voles and lemmings, and can be seen in New England, southern Canada and Illinois, said Sunny Nelson, zoological manager of birds for Lincoln Park Zoo.

Snowy owls are territorial, so Frosty could have been among the younger males in his clutch.

“If the males are pushing the younger males out, the younger males have to go further and further south looking for food,” Nelson said.

Last year, there was an eruption of snowy owls from Canada, during which unheard of numbers migrated south, Gerbitz said. It’s believed that Frosty was a part of the “echo” – a smaller group of owls that migrated earlier this year.

Gerbitz estimated Frosty to be 1 or 2 years old, or as she put it, “old enough to migrate but not old enough to be an experienced migrant.” Gerbitz said it’s not uncommon for birds to injure themselves or die during their first migration.

Gerbitz said the center has the necessary state and federal licenses to rehabilitate birds such as the snowy owl.

Compared with other owls, Frosty has been particularly docile, Gerbitz said. He has taken aggressive postures but has never lashed out against Gerbitz or other workers.

“His talons could take the flesh off my body, but he’s never been aggressive,” Gerbitz said.

Wildlife staff members are tentatively thinking about releasing him sometime in the spring, although they haven’t decided yet, Gerbitz said. If they have the funds, they’ll transport him north before releasing him.

His chances after that depend largely on the prey and other predators in the area, Nelson said. He’ll need to figure out how to find food in the area and perhaps compete with others for territory.

“It depends on the care and the individual, and also the location and what’s going on in the season,” Nelson said.

The Lincoln Park Zoo has a pair of snowy owls that were hatched in captivity. Stanley, 11, was hatched in the St. Louis Zoo, while Freya hatched last year at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.

How to help

Donations toward rehabilitating Frosty the snowy owl can be sent to Oaken Acres Wildlife Center, 12140 Aldrich Road, Sycamore, IL, 60178, or made through www.oakenacres.org.

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