LIFE

Snowy owl flies back into the wild after nearly a year of care at Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary in Green Bay

Kendra Meinert
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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GREEN BAY - An injured snowy owl that waited nearly a year to return to the wild took flight across the bay of Green Bay on Tuesday beneath the gray skies of January.

“I haven’t met a bird more ready than her,” said Lori Bankson, curator of animals at Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, just before the release from the shoreline of Bay Beach Amusement Park.

The young female snowy owl spent the last 11 months in the care of the sanctuary’s R-PAWS rehabilitation program after she was found Feb. 15 near Denmark. She was extremely thin and her breathing was raspy. She also had a right wrist fracture that required surgery at Gentle Vet Animal Hospital and several external pins to keep the bones in place as she healed.

While patience may not have always been her strong suit, her spirit undoubtedly helped pull her through the tough surgery and long recovery.

Alyssa Baumann, senior animal keeper at Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, prepares to release a young snowy owl back into the wild Tuesday along the shoreline of the bay of Green Bay. The bird was found in February with a wing injury and was cared for by the sanctuary's R-PAWS rehabilitation program.

“She’s very feisty,” said Alyssa Baumman, senior animal keeper at the sanctuary. “She’s been feisty since the day she came to us.”

“A biter and a grabber,” Bankson said.

The bird was confined to an indoor cage immediately after the surgery to limit her movement during the first months of intensive care. She graduated to a larger cage outdoors to reintroduce her to the elements. Her last few months have been spent in a large enclosure used for eagles that allowed her to fly back and forth to regain her flight strength in preparation for release.

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She showed off her flying prowess as she was released from the gloved hands of Baumann, who looked into her big yellow eyes and bid her adieu. “OK, good luck."

The owl flew well out onto the bay and landed on the ice, where she almost immediately found herself attracting the company of other birds, including a bald eagle. As takeoffs go, it was a good one, Bankson said. She didn't panic and fly to the nearest tree. She landed on ice not open water. She was comfortable with and aware of her surroundings. She wasn't afraid of the birds around her.

“She didn’t crash, which is always something we’re concerned about, especially with our birds. She landed gently and she’s gathering her bearings. That’s exactly what we want to see,” said Bankson, who expected the bird to get a good wind under her and head to land to roost for the night.

From there, she’ll spend the winter in Wisconsin before migrating back to Canada and the Arctic with the other snowies, usually around the end of February.

A snowy owl that was cared for by Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary staff after it was found injured near Denmark last winter was released Tuesday. Staff described the bird as "very feisty" during her stay with them.

Bankson has been a part of more releases than she can count in her 25 years at Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary. They’re always an emotional experience.

“When they let them go, your heart kind of bounces for a moment,” she said. “You tear up and your heart skips a beat, because you see her go, and she’s been such a part of us for 11 months. It’s like, ‘Wow, she’s gone. And she did it!’”

A second female snowy owl found with a wrist injury last January on Quincy Street on Green Bay’s east side was also brought to Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary. She underwent surgery but her wing didn’t heal in a way that allows her to fly. She’s now a permanent resident at the sanctuary and on exhibit along the Raptor Trail.

The R-PAWS program took in more than 6,500 orphaned and injured animals in 2022, up 700 from 2021. It’s the most animals in the program’s history, Bankson said.

Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary announced on Tuesday it’s one of 45 nonprofits selected for this year’s Give BIG Green Bay, the annual 24-hour day of giving partnership between the Packers Foundation and Greater Green Bay Community Foundation. Every dollar donated from noon Feb. 21 to noon Feb. 22 will be matched.

Kendra Meinert is an entertainment and feature writer at the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Contact her at 920-431-8347 or kmeinert@greenbay.gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @KendraMeinert

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