ASSATEAGUE — Perhaps symbolic of the majestic birds’ natural migration pattern, a rehabilitated snowy owl named “Delaware,” which was rescued in Baltimore during the historic irruption last winter, was released from Assateague Island last week.
Through much of last December and early 2014, local residents were treated to a rare opportunity to see snowy owls up close and personal with thousands of the arctic visitors turning up around the mid-Atlantic region including Assateague and across the eastern half of the U.S. The unusual visit, called an “irruption” in scientific terms, was deemed a natural history event the magnitude of which had not been seen in a century.
Several snowy owls throughout the region were briefly captured and tagged so scientists could gain a better understanding of their migration patterns and sudden push to the south. One snowy owl later named “Delaware” was captured and tagged along the Delaware coast and its movements were monitored along with the other tagged owls.
As luck would have it, “Delaware” was found in the Baltimore area in March with an injured wing, long after most of her counterparts had returned to their northern homes. The injured female was rescued by Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) staff at the Martin State Airport in Baltimore last March.
After surgery at the Maryland Zoo to place pins in the rescued owl’s injured wing, “Delaware” was transferred to the Owl-Moon Raptor center for flight conditioning and evaluation. Wildlife experts from the DNR, the zoo in Baltimore and the Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research program cared for and rehabilated “Delaware” for several months until she was deemed well enough to be returned to the wild.
Last week, the DNR, with the assistance of the Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research program and the zoo, released “Delaware” back into the wild from the beach at Assateague State Park. Before “Delaware” was released last week, she was fitted with a small tracking device so her movements could be chronicled through Project SNOWstorm, an organization formed last winter to monitor the historic irruption and track the tagged owls.
“We are quite pleased to finally return this beautiful owl to the wild,” said DNR ecologist David Brinker this week. “Her recovery is the culmination of several months’ work by a number of passionate and talented wildlife experts.”
“Delaware” spent much of the last year at the zoo in Baltimore recovering from and rehabilitating after surgery. Zoo officials, along with DNR biologists, carefully tended to the snowy owl until she was close to being ready for release.
“It’s been a privilege to work with this snowy owl and help ensure a full recovery so she could be returned to the wild,” said Dr. Ellen Bronson, senior veterinarian at the Maryland Zoo. “It’s exciting to see her heal and mature, and we are hopeful that she will thrive this winter and follow other snowy owls back to her nesting grounds come summer.”
In November, “Delaware” was sent to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research for final flight conditioning. Since then, Tri-State had been housing the owl while awaiting prime release conditions, including a full recovery, full flight ability and good weather. That window presented itself last week and “Delaware” was released from the beach at Assateague after last week’s Nor’easter finally cleared the area.
Assateague was chosen as the ideal location for the release given its lack of development, wide-open spaces and ample food sources. With conditions finally improving on Thursday, “Delaware” was released and flew off immediately.