Rising number of starving and dying snowy owls causing alarm in Saskatchewan

As snowy owls begin their winter migration down from the arctic to the prairies, one Saskatchewan-based wildlife rescue is worried about the health of the majestic birds.

During a two-week period last month, Mark Dallyn, the founder of Healing Haven Wildlife Rescue in Dorintosh, Sask., says he received more than a dozen calls about snowy owls in distress.

When found, the owls were incredibly stressed and emaciated, with many less than half their normal body weight. Of the 16 snowy owls Dallyn rescued, only eight made it to the rescue alive, and the majority did not make it through the first night. As of Oct. 29, only three of the owls rescued are expected to make a full recovery.

Dallyn says that while it’s not uncommon to receive calls about starving snowy owls, it’s never been to this extent.

“This year is different. It’s affecting both young owls and adult owls as well. And it’s affecting way more than we’re used to,” Dallyn said in an interview with the CBC. “They’re in such bad shape when people find them. Their eyes are closed from being dehydrated and they literally don’t react when you walk over and pick them up.”

Photo by Healing Haven Wildlife Rescue

A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Environment said the massive forest fires in Northern Saskatchewan this past summer could be partly to blame for the dying birds. Many of the birds were found with damaged respiratory systems, which were likely caused from inhaling smoke. Now as they make the long journey south, they’re becoming weak.

The Ministry also stated that it’s noticed that fewer snowy owls born this year are surviving into adulthood.

Photo by Healing Haven Wildlife Rescue

Back at the Healing Haven Wildlife Rescue, Dallyn and his team are doing everything they can to save the snowy owls in their care. Because many of their owls have weak digestion tracts, the owls are on a liquid diet. As they regain their strength, they will eventually switch to solids.

Dallyn and conservation officers are urging people to report any snowy owl sightings. You can either call the Healing Haven Wildlife Rescue, the Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Saskatchewan, or notify the closet environment office.

A message on the Rescue’s Facebook page reads, “If you see a snowy in distress or acting strange, please contact us as soon as you can! Even if they do manage to fly a little way and seem unstable in their feet or at all weak, they’re in need of help.”