Nfld. & Labrador

Labrador kayaker rescues snowy owl from raven attack

Billy Gauthier got the shock of a lifetime when a snowy owl climbed onto his kayak on the water near North West River.
Billy Gauthier of Happy Valley-Goose Bay witnessed this snowy owl trying to escape injury from a group of ravens, and helped it onto his kayak to recover. (Billy Gauthier/Facebook)

A Labrador man is being hailed as a wildlife hero after rescuing a snowy owl from the cold waters of Little Lake, near North West River, while kayaking on Friday.

Billy Gauthier was taking advantage of a lull in the late fall winds for a paddle down the lake, and expecting a peaceful jaunt on the water.

Instead, out of nowhere, an owl came swooping down from a nearby bridge, passing right over him.

"Really came quite close to me, actually. I was quite startled at first," Gauthier said.

Then he noticed the mob of ravens hot on the owl's tail, dive-bombing the bird repeatedly.

Gauthier and his paddling partner watched in horror as the attack unfolded. Eventually, the group of ravens — the collective noun for which is fittingly an "unkindness" — pushed the owl so close to the water's surface that she fell in.

Gauthier says he'll never forget the bird's piercing yellow eyes. (Billy Gauthier/Facebook)

"A couple of days before I watched a YouTube video on how owls, crows and ravens are basically mortal enemies," Gauthier said.

The owl, now bobbing in the frigid water, didn't appear to be fending off her attackers, he said.

"It was so beautiful looking. Yet I was thinking, 'This poor animal is not even struggling. She's going to drown.'"

Gauthier drifted closer, gently trying to lift the owl up out of the water with his paddle and guide her toward the bow of the kayak. She grabbed onto the boat and hauled herself out of the lake.

"She was completely waterlogged. Her wings were just totally saturated," he said. "She just sat there in front of me for about 15 minutes. We just kept making eye contact, and I'll never forget those incredible yellow eyes staring right at me. It was unbelievable."

Gauthier rescued this owl from an attack. (Billy Gauther/Facebook)

Gauthier, his eye on the owl's sharp talons, said he spoke calmly to her, moving slowly so he wouldn't spook the animal. His partner snapped some photos while the bird dried off, and the two moved closer to shore to give the bird more time to recover.

They posted those photos to social media to great fanfare over the weekend. Gauthier, a wood carver, said he'll use the memory in a future art piece.

"I love wildlife, and I always have. But this experience is extra-, extra-special to me," he said.

"I think she did realize that we were there to help rescue her, not to harm her in any way."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show