DORINTOSH, Sask. — Young, starving snowy owls have been showing up in record numbers in Saskatchewan this fall.
Mark Dallyn says eight juveniles have been brought to his Healing Haven Wildlife Rescue centre near Dorintosh north of Meadow Lake in the last three weeks.
All of them were half their normal weight.
He's also had 17 calls about snowy owls, but not every bird survived to make it to the rescue facility.
Dallyn says it's the largest number he's ever seen at one time all suffering from a common ailment.
Wildlife spokesman Daryl Minter speculates last summer's forest fires may have damaged the birds' respiratory system and prevented them from hunting.
Only three of the eight owls brought to the rescue centre survived.
"These ones that did pull though, it's really amazing that they did,'' said Dallyn.
The snowy owls are fed a liquid diet and then gradually moved back to their regular intake of mice. The three survivors have gained more than a kilogram of weight each and are doing well.
Snowy owls typically spend summers on the Arctic tundra and migrate south to north and central Saskatchewan if the weather becomes too cold or food supplies run dry.
"They usually (migrate) down south later, and all of these have been immature owls,'' said Minter, who is a conservation officer in La Ronge.
"We think the high concentrations of particulate can cause persistent cough and increased nasal discharge, wheezing and increased physical effort in breathing, which is just too much for these young owls.''
The birds that died were sent to the University of Saskatchewan's Western College of Veterinary Medicine for examination.
The university has also been caring for an adult great horned owl named Lola, who was brought in three months ago with singed tail and wing feathers. Owls molt so veterinarians are waiting for Lola's feather cycle to take its natural course.
Lola and the snowy owls at Healing Haven are expected to be released in the spring, sparing them the rigours of winter, to give them the best chance of survival.
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