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Snowy owl Tundra heading to roomier digs up north

An injured snowy owl is shown at Bailey

An injured snowy owl is shown at Bailey Arboretum in Lattingtown. Credit: Chris Ware

Before spring indeed finally springs, one creature is high-tailing it off Long Island Wednesday to take up residence intentionally in a cooler clime, but one not nearly as frigid as his Arctic home.

A snowy owl, unofficially called Tundra, that was injured in December and has since been rehabilitated, is being driven to a Vermont education center where he'll serve as "an ambassador" for his species, said Jim Jones, board member of Volunteers for Wildlife, a rescue, rehabilitation and education center in Lattingtown.

That's where Tundra, no longer able to survive in the wild, has recuperated after suffering a broken wing at LaGuardia Airport, possibly getting caught up in an airplane backdraft, Jones said.

The owl is "just too fully feathered" to be comfortable summering on Long Island, so Jones is driving him up to the Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Quechee, where Tundra will also move into a roomier aviary.

Tundra is making the trip in a large, covered animal carrier with a thick towel at the bottom "to let him rest/nest in comfort," Jones said.

An owl type popularized by Hedwig, companion to the fictional wizard Harry Potter, snowies started flooding south in larger-than-normal numbers late last year, with many wintering in parts of the United States where food was more plentiful, researchers said.

Recent sightings on Long Island have fallen way off in the wake of some warming days and the arrival of other raptors returning from the south, meaning the snowies are winging it back north, Jones said. Winter sightings, though, had been up by "an estimated 200 percent," he said.

The crowd can be traced back to a bumper crop of lemmings, the owls' staple meal in the Arctic, which led to more breeding and a bumper crop of young owls, which headed south when the lemmings headed under the winter snow cover, making them harder to hunt, experts said.

Though Tundra may have been traumatized earlier by his injury, he had since acclimated, Jones said, snacking on morsels of mouse and becoming calm and contemplative, taking on a seemingly "Buddha-like expression."

Glad that the owl is healed and headed for a good home, still, "we're going to miss him," Jones said. He's been "a beautiful emblem for us."

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