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Snowy owl hit by bus in DC, taken to National Zoo

Thursday - 1/30/2014, 11:44pm  ET

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Wildlife professionals examine the snowy owl's wings. (Courtesy City Wildlife)
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Prognosis is guarded

WTOP's Kate Ryan reports

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- A rare snowy owl recently searching for food in the nation's capital and perching at The Washington Post was apparently hit by a bus and was treated Thursday at the National Zoo.

District of Columbia police found the injured bird downtown, and it was brought to the zoo shortly after 2 a.m., said zoo spokeswoman Annalisa Meyer. A veterinarian was called in to treat the owl and administer pain medication.

It was later transferred to a city wildlife rehabilitation facility for additional treatment. A biologist at City Wildlife planned to give the owl X-rays and release it back into the wild. Veterinarians believe it's a female.

There was blood coming out of the owl's beak, and doctors feared a head injury, but clinic director Alicia DeMay has ruled that out. They're not sure about internal injuries yet, so the prognosis remains guarded, says clinic president Anne Lewis.

The owl is taking food and liquid.

Snowy owls aren't usually seen in the region, but scientists say they have been moving far south of their Arctic habitats searching for food due to a population spike or a severe shortage of lemmings, their primary food.

Snowy owls have been spotted along the East Coast in recent weeks as far south as Florida. In late December, a snowy owl was trapped and relocated away from Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, and they have also been spotted near other Washington airports.

Another owl was killed Wednesday when it was hit by a plane at Philadelphia International Airport.

It's the biggest "irruption" of the Arctic owls that any bird expert remembers, said Ellen Paul, executive director of the Washington- based Ornithological Council.

"This is truly extraordinary," she said. "They're being seen all over the place, all over the East Coast."

Cities and confused, lost owls don't mix well, though, she said. The snowy owls come from places where there are no vehicles, no roads, no cats and no rat poison, which can all cause harm. It's not a bird species that normally migrates, so snowy owls don't know where they are or where to find food.

"Part of it is they are just hungry and tired, and they're settling wherever they end up," Paul said.

Humans spotted the owl with its white feathers, yellow eyes and rotating head this week and got busy snapping pictures and making the bird famous on social media. But when Paul heard the owl made its home downtown, she said she didn't want to go see it because she knew it could be in danger.

"I was pretty sure this bird was going to end up being hit by a vehicle because what happens when they focus on prey, they literally lock on it like a heat seeking missile," she said. "And they're going to go diving directly onto it and not even notice what else is around them."

Doctors needs to get the owl fixed up quickly so it can head home, DeMay says. "They will be migrating in about four weeks, so that's our window. ...

"The people of D.C. have definitely embraced the snowy owl, as we have," DeMay says.


WTOP's Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

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