Raptor rehabilitator takes rare snowy owl under his wing

  • A snowy owl rests on a recycling bin behind the Greenfield Recorder office Wednesday morning. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Raptor rehabilitator Tom Ricardi handles a snowy owl that was acting lethargic in Greenfield Wednesday morning. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Raptor rehabilitator Tom Ricardi handles a snowy owl that was acting lethargic in Greenfield Wednesday morning. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Raptor rehabilitator Tom Ricardi captures a snowy owl resting on a recycling bin behind the Greenfield Recorder office Wednesday morning. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A snowy owl perches on a downtown building in Greenfield Tuesday morning. Tom Ricardi of the Birds of Prey Rehabilitation Center in Conway says it is early, but not unheard of for a snowy owl to be this far south. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A snowy owl that was acting lethargic in Greenfield Wednesday morning sits in a crate in Tom Ricardi’s truck before going to a vet to get evaluated. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 11/24/2021 4:12:59 PM
Modified: 11/24/2021 4:12:43 PM

GREENFIELD — Sometimes, a news story falls right onto your doorstep. Other times, it flies there.

A snowy owl was found resting on the rim of a recycling bin behind the Greenfield Recorder office Wednesday morning, following sightings in downtown Greenfield on Monday and Tuesday.

The snowy owl, a species listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, typically ranges from Canada up through the Arctic Circle, with primary breeding populations existing only in the northernmost reaches of its habitat.

Tom Ricardi of the Birds of Prey Rehabilitation Center in Conway said it is early, but not unheard of for a snowy owl to be this far south. Ricardi arrived to assess the raptor’s condition at around 9:30 a.m. Upon observing the owl’s thin frame and a hanging wing, Ricardi decided to take it to the South Deerfield Veterinary Clinic, where the creature was determined to be malnourished and injured.

Ricardi said he usually receives two to three calls per week regarding a bird of prey in need of attention. While Ricardi’s typical rescues include barred owls and red-tailed hawks, he said snowy owls make rare appearances in the area each year.

“Every year they show up somewhere,” he said. “Last year, I saw a couple.”

Ricardi said a peculiar part of the bird’s presence is that Greenfield is a landlocked habitat. He explained that if snowy owls travel southbound, they usually adhere more closely to the coast. Regardless of where exactly snowy owls look to travel, though, Ricardi said the birds of prey have one thing in mind when flying southbound: food.

“If their food supply runs low,” he said, “they run south.”

When Ricardi arrived at the South Deerfield Veterinary Clinic, staff determined the owl was a 1-year-old male weighing under 1 pound — a fraction of a snowy owl’s typical weight of 3 pounds. Pushed out of his arctic birthplace, the owl struggled to hunt prey in Greenfield due to a pulled left wing or tendon injury likely caused by hitting a building. Another indication of the owl’s hunger was simply how it acted when Ricardi brought him in for a checkup.

“As soon as we got in, it ate five mice right out of my hand,” he said.

Ricardi said the owl likely would have starved in nature without intervention. He said he will keep the owl to rehabilitate until around March. The first step in the process, he said, is to get the owl’s weight up before taking it into the veterinarian’s office again for another wing check-up.

“I play it one day at a time and hope for the best,” Ricardi said of his work.

When the rehab process is complete, Ricardi said he plans to release the owl in rural Hatfield. The owl would then be expected to head back north from whence he came.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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