Regina's Salthaven West fields high volume of calls about snowy owls struck by vehicles

The rehabilitation organization was called to seven incidents of seven snowy owls being struck by vehicles in the Regina area already this year. It's had to euthanize six of those birds, but the most recent call has a more positive outlook.

6 of 7 owls struck so far were euthanized, but most recent rescue ends with more positive outlook

Salthaven West was called to rescue this female snowy owl last week, which was found alive after being struck by a van on Regina's outskirts. (Salthaven West/Facebook)

Of the seven snowy owls Salthaven West has tried to rescue this year, six were euthanized — but the most recent call to the Regina-based organization ended on a happier note. 

The rescue organization was called after a snowy owl flew into the path of a van on the outskirts of Regina. When Salthaven employees arrived they found the owl lodged herself head-first in the vehicle's grill.

"She's lucky that she doesn't have any fractures, but she does have a very serious concussion," Megan Lawrence, director of rehabilitation for Salthaven West said.

Lawrence noted Salthaven also fielded a higher number of calls than usual about vehicles striking snowy owls this year, particularly around Regina, though the number does fluctuate on a yearly basis.

She said two years ago the organization responded to 12 calls about owls being struck all winter. Last year, through the same season, just one call came in. 

A post on social media indicated the six owls the organization attempted to rescue previously were in much more grave condition — Lawrence described their injuries as catastrophic — when they were found, and they were all euthanized.

Lawrence said the snowy owl rescued last week was somewhat of a miracle of the lot, given she hadn't broken any bones in her wings or legs in the collision with the van. 

Concussion aside, Lawrence said the owl is in good shape physically and was very healthy otherwise. She monitored improvements in the owl's condition in the time that passed since the organization started caring for her. 

The snowy owl received treatment for a concussion, which she was woozy from last week, but Salthaven West's director of animal rehabilitation said she was more feisty and on the road to recovery in the following days. (Salthaven West/Facebook)

The hope, she said, was to see the snowy owl released back into the wild soon. 

"Head injuries can be a little bit unpredictable, so we're hoping that she recovers quickly," Lawrence said. 

"But it could be just a few days, or it could be a couple of months."

Lawrence said anyone who hits a snowy owl or another bird of prey should pull over and check to see if the animal is still alive. If someone isn't comfortable handling the animal, she said Salthaven was more than happy to send out volunteers to help. 

If a bird does cross your path on the highway, Lawrence said drivers shouldn't swerve, as they'd be more likely to hurt themselves, or someone else.

Lemming population declines can lead to owl increases 

Trevor Herriot, a naturalist and writer, said although he hasn't taken extensive time studying snowy owls, but he was amazed by the number of owls that were already struck by vehicles this winter. 

"Clearly there are a lot of owls in that area. I'd be interested to see on a map if all seven of those events were clustered close to each other," he said and added if that were the case, the strikes could be due to a close concentration of prey in the area.

Herriot said he understands snowy owls' migration patterns are based on access to prey.

He speculated we may be seeing more of the owls around Regina this year due to declines in the number of lemmings — owls' primary prey —  in the north.

"I haven't read this specifically for this year but most often it's because there's a lemming crash and maybe other small mammals, too," Herriot said. 

Owls diet consists of "mostly small mammals, mice, voles and lemmings, so they're down here looking for voles and mice and there's usually lots on the Regina plains." 

Southern portions of Regina, particularly, are a haven for mice and voles, Herriot said. 

Combined with the fact snowy owls enjoy the open plains — as opposed to forests like some of their other feathered peers — he said the region is a particularly good place for a snowy owl to be. 

Herriot recommended anyone driving along highway 6 south of Regina, or near the Eston area in particular, to be aware of the larger concentration of snowy owls in those areas. 

"There's kind of just little pockets all over the province where the prey population must be good and you see a lot of them," he said. 

"If you're seeing a lot of snowy owls in your area, be careful, watch for them floating down over the road. Sometimes they get so focused on their prey, they zoom right in on it, they won't even notice that there's a truck or a car coming towards them."

With files from Fiona Odlum