Raptor Center helping more owls

The Raptor Center is currently caring for 17 injured great gray owls.

Jerret Raffety

The University’s Raptor Center is treating a record number of injured Canadians.

These Canadians are great gray owls that have migrated to Minnesota. They came in search of rodent species that are their food source. Along the way, these owls have become injured.

Currently, the Raptor Center is caring for 17 injured great gray owls.

“Food is getting hard for the great gray owls to find, because the rodent population can only grow until it reaches a peak, and then the population plummets,” said Dr. Hugo Lopes, a Raptor Center staff veterinarian.

This cycle is natural and happens approximately once every 10 years in wild rodent species of southern Canada. The cycle usually brings the great gray owls to northern Minnesota, Lopes said.

Typically, the Raptor Center might care for one or two injured raptors during the winter months, because most raptors migrate south, Lopes said. When food for the great gray owls is rare, the Raptor Center usually cares for an average of 30 injured great gray owls per winter, he said.

But this winter, the Raptor Center has admitted nearly 80 injured great gray owls, Lopes said.

The recent upsurge of injured great gray owls has taken its toll on the Raptor Center’s resources.

“The great gray owls eat mice that are 50 cents apiece three times a day,” said Jane Goggin, Raptor Center rehabilitation coordinator.

“That’s $1.50 per owl per day right there, with 17 being looked after.”

In fact, it might cost the Raptor Center up to $27,000 to rehabilitate the influx of great gray owls, including surgeries, medical supplies, staff time, housing and physical conditioning, Lopes said.

The Raptor Center has also undergone budget cuts during the years, said Greg Hansen, Raptor Center veterinary technician. Those cuts have reduced the number of hours available for staff members, as well as staff positions, at the Raptor Center. The lack of manpower contributes to the strain caused by the high number of injured owls, he said.

The Raptor Center is not taking any special measures to compensate for the strain, said Julia Ponder, Raptor Center associate director.

“All of our biologists in the field believe that when this cycle repeats in the next five to 10 years, it will not be as heavy,” Ponder said.

Raptor Center records indicate 12 dead great gray owls have been brought to the center since November.

Environmental factors, such as the reduction of the great gray owl habitat and unusually large numbers of these owls in the wild, might have contributed to the spike in injured great gray owls, Lopes said.

These raptors have mostly been injured by getting hit by cars because of their hunting habits, Lopes said.

“These owls listen and look for prey high in the air and then swoop low to catch them,” Lopes said.

“Sometimes, they don’t notice that they’re swooping low across a road.”

The owls are at risk of being hit by cars, because they are not used to humans in their native boreal forest, Lopes said.

“Few people mean few roads and cars,” Lopes said.