A snowy owl rescued from a cooling tower at a John F. Kennedy Airport power plant was set free Friday morning at Jones Beach State Park afer being nourished back to health with morsels of mouse.
The white feathered, yellow-eyed bird spread his wings, soared into the wind and was last seen sitting on a dune right near the Teddy Roosevelt Nature Center.
One of a bumper crop to have journeyed south late last year from their Arctic homes, this owl will likely soon be starting his long journey home, as are many of his fellows, said Jim Jones, a wildlife rehabilitator, with this the second endangered snowy to cross his path.
The newly freed owl likely flew into the cooling tower, about three stories high, got scared and was unable to "generate enough lift" to get out, said Jones, board member for Volunteers for Wildlife, a rescue, rehabilitation and education center in Lattingtown.
Called in by power plant workers, Jones headed to Kennedy on Sunday and squiggled into the tower through an opening that he figures to be about 2 feet by 2 feet. At that point the owl dropped to the ground from where he was perched, Jones netted and wrapped him in a towel and placed him in a carrier just outside the opening.
"It was amazing," he said.
Adept at swooping down on prey in the Arctic's wide open spaces, snowies have favored similar areas here, such as airports and beaches, with Jones' earlier owl, unofficially called Tundra, brought in in December with a broken wing by LaGuardia Airport staffers, he said. Recuperating in the center's outdoor aviary, Tundra is waiting to be transported to his new home at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, as he is no longer able to survive in the wild, Jones said.
An owl type popularized by Hedwig, companion to the fictional wizard Harry Potter, snowies "were flooding across the border in numbers that hadn't been seen in perhaps half a century," wrote Scott Weidensaul in the March-April issue of Audubon magazine. It was a "record-breaking irruption -- as such unpredictable invasions of northern birds are known," wrote Weidensaul, co-director of Project Snowstorm, researchers who are studying some of these mostly white-plumaged, yellow-eyed visitors.
Sightings this winter on Long Island were up by "an estimated 200 percent," Jones said.
The owl numbers can be traced back to last summer's large population of northern Quebec's lemmings, small rodents that are the snowies' staple meal. That led to a "high density of breeding owls," said Jean-Francois Therrien, senior research biologist at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Orwigsburg, Pa. But with lemmings moving under snow cover in the winter, making them hard to hunt, "lots of fledglings seeking a wintering territory" went south, he said.