The Snowy Owl Irruption of 2013–2014: The Zoo Veterinarian’s Contribution to Unexpected Local Conservation
1Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, USA; 2Brandywine Zoo, Wilmington, DE, USA; 3Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Catonsville, MD, USA; 4Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Oxford, MD, USA
During the winter of 2013–2014, an unusual visitor graced the East Coast of the USA, appearing in the Mid-Atlantic region in the highest numbers seen in over 40 yr. The appearance of juvenile snowy owls (Bubo scandiacus) in more widespread regions provided a chance to collect information about the population movements and health of this species.
Project SNOWstorm (www.projectsnowstorm.org) is a collaborative effort of numerous state governments, wildlife rehabilitation centers, universities, and other entities. The veterinary staff at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore have a close working relationship with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and collaborate on projects involving various native Maryland species such as black bears (Ursus americanus), bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), and bog turtles (Glyptemys muhlenbergii). The zoo has exhibited snowy owls for several decades, equipping the veterinarians with the knowledge of their common diseases, normal blood values in captivity, handling, and behavior.
During the irruption 22 GPS/GMS transmitters were placed on owls captured in various states. Necropsies were performed on owls that were found dead. Live owls were sampled whenever possible to establish normal complete blood counts, biochemistry values, and toxicology data in wild snowy owls. The Maryland Zoo became the central biobank for blood samples and sampled many of the birds found in Maryland. Injured birds were assessed at the zoo in some cases, including one owl that was treated for a wing tip luxation and subsequently released. This collaborative project highlights the contribution that zoo veterinarians with their unique qualifications can make to larger projects involving native species.