GREENVILLE — Originally thought to be nothing more than a clump in the snow turned out to be something not often found in this part of North America – a Snowy Owl.
It was two years ago, in January, that Steve Blakeley was told about a dead Snowy Owl by a co-worker, Mike Grilliot, at Andersons Marathon Ethanol on Sebring Warner Road.
Blakeley shared that it is routine to cover the grounds to evaluate tanks, thus how the bird was discovered and went to take a look for himself.
“I walked out there to see it, and from ten feet away it just looked like a little clump of snow,” said Blakeley. He explained how the day was cold, with light snow on the ground. The owl had perished beyond the tall fence on the property with his immediate thought to contact the naturalists at Shawnee Prairie Preserve.
According to Mandy Martin, naturalist, with Darke County Parks, they were over the moon and excited about the discovery. It is rare to find the Snowy Owl so far from home. The bird will breed in the Arctic tundra and migrate into Alaska and northern Canada. However, to have the owl so far south tends to be the result of what Martin shared as irruptions.
An irruption transpires every four to five years, with some significant fluctuations such as in 2017, which was considered a blizzard of the white bird migrating further south and in higher numbers than normal. The reasons not entirely understood but are reported as revolving around population explosion and food availability.
Martin explained how the owls prefer flat, open spaces which area farm fields and airports replicate. The ethanol plant was the perfect ground for the predatory bird. Blakeley explained how the site has geese as well as significant pigeon populations. He noted Red-tailed Hawks hunting in the vicinity.
When in North America, the Snowy Owl tends to be a victim of vehicle accidents, rodent poisoning, and even power lines. This owl was immature and had starved to death, a rarity as they tend to be bulky and well-fed when they “come down” from their nesting grounds in the tundra.
While the Andersons’ Snowy Owl was found deceased, Blakeley stated there had been sightings of a second bird in the area. Martin noted there have even been reports of the bird as far south as Florida. Bird enthusiasts who confirm sightings, as well as birds tracked via electronic monitoring devices, can be viewed online at ebird.org.
Thanks to the discovery and the Friends of the Parks covering the expense, a taxidermist licensed in protected species was able to save the owl that will educate generations to come on this unique bird of prey.
“It looks great,” said Blakeley. Thursday was the first opportunity he had to see the Snowy Owl after its preservation. It is now proudly displayed in a case at Shawnee Prairie Preserve on State Route 502.
To learn more about the Snowy Owl and their tracking, visit www.projectsnowstorm.org.
Reach reporter Bethany J. Royer-DeLong at 937/548-3330 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more news, features, and sports at DarkeCountyMedia.com.