We are pleased to report that our great horned owl successfully thrived for a little over 4 months (approximately 132 days), but saddened to report that she has indeed passed away. The purpose of our study was to determine whether an owl with ocular damage could hunt well enough to take care of herself, especially during the winter season where many prey are hibernating, have migrated, or are taking cover under snow. Thanks to this study it is clear that she was able to survive for quite sometime, and based on date of recovery of her body and no satellite movements we can determine that she passed away sometime in the beginning of March. We had continued to work with Biodiversity Research Institute who offers expertise in field studies and research, and after receiving uncharacteristic satellite data determined that either the transmitter was dislodged or that she had passed away. We were able to borrow their VHF receiver and GPS equipment and track down the great horned owl. She was found on the shore in Harpswell, ME; a mainland off the coast of the islands that she had been discovered on, and travelled around for the majority of the time that we were able to track her.
Center for Wildlife staff immediately brought her remains to the New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostics Lab, a medical partner located at the University of New Hampshire. Part of your funding made it possible to run a complete necropsy by their qualified staff, and try to determine cause of death. Cause of death could not be determined definitively, however it was noted that she had a fractured radius, and was thin. If she had been hit by a car, or suffered a fractured radius in another way, she would not have been able to hunt well enough to feed herself which could explain why she was thin.
Although of course we would have loved the great horned owl to survive for the rest of her life span, we are very encouraged by these findings. Chris Desorbo, the Wildlife Research Biologist working with us from Biodiversity Research Institute stated "It seems clear that your owl was able to survive despite the ocular injury for some time." Although we may not be able to draw definitive conclusions from one study, the data does show clearly that an owl with ocular damage has a great chance of surviving and caring for themselves for quite some time, and would not necessarily automatically starve to death upon release. This is very hopeful news for great horned owls who may have been euthanized or automatically placed in captivity for life-time care due to permanent eye trauma. There also was not much information about island dwelling owls or their movements in Maine, and this study has offered very valuable data. Center for Wildlife staff, Biodiversity Research Institute's biologists, and the general public were amazed by the great horned owl's travels over the open ocean each night. The data and maps also offer supporting data to the theory that great horned owls are dedicated to a territory and tend to hunt and live in one area.
We are so grateful to the donors toward this research project. There is little to no data or post-release studies on owls with ocular damage, or released patients at all due to no state or federal funding for wildlife medical care. Many centers including Center for Wildlife struggle each year to raise the funding to treat an increasing amount of patients, despite a decreasing amount of donations due to the economy. Because of your support, we have taken the first step to understanding the best prognosis for a great horned owl with ocular damage. We were able to recover the transmitter and it is in tact and can pay a fee to have it restored to it's full capacity and battery life (1.5 years). This means that we will be able to place the transmitter on a new patient, and continue our important research. Funding toward this project will continue to go toward the equipment, data processing, and staff time to study the next post-released owl. Thank you!!
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