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Sanctuary filled to the brim

Janette Damsma watches as the snowy owl she released returns to the wild in a rural region of Kaleden a short distance from where it was found in a chicken coop earlier. The young bird has been recovering at the South Okanagan Rehab Centre for Owls prior to this week
Janette Damsma watches as the snowy owl she released returns to the wild in a rural region of Kaleden a short distance from where it was found in a chicken coop earlier. The young bird has been recovering at the South Okanagan Rehab Centre for Owls prior to this week's release.
— image credit: Mark Brett/Western News

There is currently no vacancy at the South Okanagan’s only raptor inn.

The South Okanagan Rehab Centre for Owls near Vaseux Lake is literally bursting at the seams with a wide range of convalescing birds of prey.

According to Lauren Meads who manages SORCO, this time of year is usually slower in terms of residents at the facility,  but in the past 12 months that appears to be changing.

“We’re very, very busy,” she said this week. “I was doing the calculations from 2012 and we’ve had nearly double the birds we normally get in. I’ve got a full house and all my intensive care cages are all taken up. I’m not too sure why this is, but even the other raptor recovery centres on the coast are experiencing a boom as well.

“It maybe is the weather, maybe there is an over abundance of young and they’re just trying to find food, I’m just really not sure right now.”

Other possible causes could be the growing human population and increasing interaction, resulting in more injuries to the birds.

There is, however, one constant among those being brought to the shelter, especially among members of a particular species which are a long ways from home.

“We’ve actually had five snowy owls in so far and we were able to release three of them but two passed away because they were hungry and had a lot of lice on them,” said Meads. “Many of the birds we have are just hungry.

Two other snowy owls were released near Kelowna recently and the third was set free this week in the Kaleden area near where it was earlier discovered in a chicken coop.

Typically these are younger birds who are more likely to go to the coast, however, every five years or so, more of them wind up in the Interior.

“A lot of people are saying the lemming population in the Arctic is crashing, and because of that the owls are coming down here in search of food,” said Meads. “But the last couple years there was a good supply of lemmings and they had a boom in the number of young (owls) born, but now there is not enough food.”

Southern Canada is generally the lower portion of their range, however, some do make their way into the United States.

The manager urges people to call her if they see any bird of prey which appears to be in distress, especially one which remains in one place for any length of time.

She added there is likely a problem if someone is able to approach a raptor too closely without it flying away.

Snowy owls are particularly aggressive and like their cousins, great horned owls, will attack domestic animals, including pets.

“I don’t believe they become habituated but if you do see them, you should definitely keep your dogs and cats inside,” said Meads.

For more information contact the centre by phone at 250-498-4251 or email sorco@telus.net.

 

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