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D.C. Snowy Owl Soars on the Wings of Science

The physical reconditioning of a raptor patient like The Raptor Center’s snowy owl patient from Washington, D.C., prior to its release is an important step in patient rehabilitation. It must compliment the medical care provided and restore a raptor’s fitness to a level necessary for survival.

Physical fitness has several levels, the highest being performance fitness. Competitive athletes, such as humans and racehorses, must achieve this level in order to be contenders for victory in their given sports. Raptors must also achieve this level before they are released to the wild in order to survive. Extensive research has been conducted to devise exercise programs that help animals reach the performance level of fitness most efficiently.

D.C. Snowy Owl in Arms

The Raptor Center has used the same science to develop a specialized exercise program for its raptor patients. Goals and benchmarks for normal flight mechanics, flight styles, and strength and endurance for each raptor species have been determined. As a raptor progresses through its reconditioning, it is assessed and adjustments are made to its exercise program if needed.

You can see a video of what some of the process looks like in this WCCO-TV story and this KSTP-TV story from Wednesday.

Lori Arent, clinic manager for The Raptor Center, also contributed to this post.

  1. April 20, 2014 7:52 am | cheryl Says:

    Who was responsible for the decision to release the snowy owl under power lines???? Was that science -based? Looked like a dangerous near-fatal decision!!! What were you all thinking?

  2. April 22, 2014 9:41 am | Justin Paquette Says:

    Thanks for voicing your concerns Cheryl. Here’s a little more information from The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota about why it chose to release the owl where it did:

    “We chose this spot for the release based on the recommendation of a biologist who has monitored owls for several years in the area and knows this to be a favorable habitat for snowy owls. We consider several factors when determining the location where we release a bird: habitat, season (expected migratory movement) and presence of other raptors, among many other considerations.

    We also had done previous test flight runs with this particular owl and we knew he was strong enough for release and his new feathers were serving him well. When we release a bird, we always gently toss them into the wind in order to help the bird get lift. Typically a bird will turn and fly with the wind after a few wingbeats–that was the expected pattern with this bird. It certainly is an indication of this bird’s excellent condition that he flew straight into the wind for so long.

    The power lines were more than a quarter mile away from the release spot but unfortunately it does not appear that way in the film footage. The bird flew a fair distance before he neared the line. We did observe the owl after the video ended. He showed no signs of injury and continued to fly with strong and even wingbeats.

    The Raptor Center treats over 800 raptors each year and we’re happy to have helped this snowy owl.

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