MINNEAPOLIS - We don't always see snowy owls near the Twin Cities, but every few years they make their way down from the arctic to search for food. Currently three of these "snowies" are getting some much needed rehabilitation at the University of Minnesota's Raptor Center after they were found injured and starving to death.
In addition to gaining weight... learning to fly is a big part of rehabilitation.
After attaching a rope to their feet, called a creance, the birds and their volunteer handlers head outdoors to a flying field to get some exercise. The creance makes sure the birds don't escape!
In addition to proving they can hunt and sustain themselves in the wild. The snowies have to demonstrate to Dr. Julia Ponder that they have the ability to fly north. Dr. Ponder and her team are looking for a lot of things when this bird is out flying. But their concentrating on the position of their feathers, their tail and their legs. And also the symmetry when their flying. She says, "They make very subtle adjustments when they have injuries. They may tilt their tail, or skew their feet to adapt for a weaker wing."
These adjustments were especially important for one of the birds, which arrived at the center with a broken wing.
The goal is to complete eight flights, all reaching the end of their creance. Both of the snowies during this flight run showed good endurance and style, a good sign that they'll meet the target release date in late March. Until then, the snowies exercise twice a week and are also learning to hunt live prey.
Extra fun fact: The center uses nail polish to distinguish between the different snowies by painting a stripe on the top of their beaks. In this case, green and white.
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