12/27/2012 12:28 EST | Updated 02/26/2013 05:12 EST

Snowy Owls Starving In Southern B.C.

com/photos/39871249@N07/6698773959/ Snowy Owl | Date 2012-01-14 21:52 | Author http://www. flickr. com/people/39871249@N07 Kathy & sam from ...
A wildlife rescue and rehabilitation group in Delta, B.C., says it has seen a record number of hungry birds of prey coming through its facility this winter, and snowy owls in particular.

A number of snowy owls have been migrating south from the arctic tundra to Boundary Bay, an area recognized internationally as an important bird habitat on the Pacific Flyway migration route.

They're visible from the dike along the bay, hunting for voles or small birds in the brush, or resting on old washed up tree trunks — a total of 22 were reported spotted on Boxing Day.

Rob Hope, the head bird care supervisor at the nearby Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (O.W.L.), said not all the owls are making the winter journey from the Arctic in good health.

"They were coming down earlier [this year] for some reason, whether it's food or weather. But by the time they get down, their body conditions are so poor," he said.

Hope showed the CBC a photo of an emaciated snowy owl that was found, starving, last week in Hope. The rehabilitation group tried to feed it cat food, but it wouldn't eat, and it died.

Hope said the group has taken in six other birds in similar condition.

"Basically, the muscle was so deteriorated that there was nothing but a rib cage," he said.

"Usually by the time we get them or they're rescued, it's pretty well too late."

Hope said the centre has taken in a record number of birds of prey in 2012, which was 482 as of Boxing Day. In 2011, it cared for 391.

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