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Avian Advocates

A Rehabilitation Facility in Dedham Helps Iowa’s Raptors Soar

By Tim Ackarman

Things were not looking good for Moonface last January. Lost, alone, injured, and starving, he had a slim chance for survival.

Snowy owls like Moonface inhabit the Arctic tundra — over 1,000 miles from Iowa. Sightings of the regal white raptor in the state are unusual.

Yet every six to seven years, for complex reasons that may include fluctuating prey densities, the continental United States receives an influx of snowies consisting primarily of adolescents.

During last winter’s large influx (an “irruption” in birder lingo) the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union documented 154 snowy owls in Iowa.

These inexperienced hunters had entered an unfamiliar landscape; at least 33 died in the state, while many more likely perished attempting to return home.

Moonface was nearly among those casualties. Already facing long odds, the young male’s chances plummeted when he dislocated an elbow.

Because he was unable to travel, hunt, and defend himself, the question was not whether he would die but how and when.

Then Moonface caught a break. A motorist spotted the crippled visitor and contacted Carroll County naturalist Matt Wetrich, who knew to call Kay Neumann in nearby Dedham.

The owl was critically malnourished, weighing only two pounds rather than the expected four.

“Actually, the injury probably saved him,” says Neumann, founder and executive director of Saving Our Avian Resources (SOAR). “He was down and available for us to get before he starved out.”

An internship at a raptor center during college led Neumann to a love of falconry. She soon became the go-to expert for people with injured raptors. Her hobby eventually grew time-consuming and expensive.

(Read more Avian Advocates)

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