A white snowy owl nipped at Bob Tompkins’ red jacket sleeve as he held the animal so his wife, Lynn Tompkins, could take a blood sample from under its left wing.
“The holding down is not the hard part,” Bob said. “It’s making sure he don’t go and get loose. They kill for a living. Those feet can do a lot of damage quick.”
It took two tries for Lynn to get a decent draw, and after the second she deposited a tiny vial into the hum of a centrifuge. Minutes later, results showed that the bird was more anemic than when Blue Mountain Wildlife first took it in Thursday. Yet Lynn was still encouraged that it would survive.
In the 25 years they have run Blue Mountain Wildlife, the Tompkins have treated two other snowy owls but neither made it more than a day.
She said the animal was likely more anemic because it was no longer dehydrated and therefore had more blood in its system. Since the owl has been eating well, Lynn expects to draw a better reading next week. She is shipping its blood to a lab in the eastern U.S. to test for diseases like aspergillus, a dangerous fungus to which birds under stress as being captive or injured are susceptible.
Bob and a couple volunteers Thursday relayed the one-year-old male near Yakima to the rescue center off Appaloosa Lane in Pendleton. He was found starved and dehydrated with a broken and dislocated right shoulder, likely from being hit by a vehicle or flying into a telephone pole.
Snowy owls are rare in the region. They live in the Arctic reaches of Canada and Alaska, and typically migrate no farther south than northern Washington. They only migrate when they cannot find enough food, which could be due to a cyclical downswing in the rodent population, or because of competition with other owls, Bob Tompkins said.
Lynn Tompkins said this owl was lucky to be alive.
“If he hadn’t been picked up by somebody, he would have died,” Lynn Tompkins said. “This bird would not have made it back north no matter what.”
The Tompkins’ will know whether they can release their feathered friend into the wild in about a month when its shoulder heals. But it likely isn’t suitable for release because scar tissue will make it difficult for him to fly well enough to survive.
Pending approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Tompkins’ expect to keep him as an educational animal. They use some of the 40 birds they care for at the refuge to teach groups including local students and Tamástslikt Cultural Institute visitors about birds.
To sponsor this snowy owl, or for assistance rescuing an injured bird, call Blue Mountain Wildlife at 541-278-0215.
Contact Chris Rizer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0836.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.