Snowy owl released back into wild after Milwaukee oil rescue


This snowy owl was released back into the wild after she was found “covered in oil” at a Milwaukee recycling center, officials say.

Wisconsin Humane Society

A recycling center employee found a snowy owl “covered in oil” after the December oil spill into Milwaukee waterways, and rescuers say the worker’s call for help ensured the bird’s survival.

A responding wildlife volunteer captured the owl at the Milwaukee recycling center and admitted her to the Wisconsin Humane Society Wildlife Rehabilitation Center on Dec. 3, according to a March 7 news release.

The snowy owl — later named Annabelle — was suffering from hypothermia and in respiratory distress.

“When bathing the owl, staff noted that she also suffered substantial soft tissue injuries to the very sensitive wrist part of her wings, likely from struggling in an attempt to fly, but being weighted down in oil,” rescuers said, adding that “she would not have survived without human intervention.”

Over 93 days, staff say they treated Annabelle with baths that removed oil and other contaminants, gave her special medications, frequently changed her bandages and helped her relearn to fly. Her time at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center also included visits with veterinary specialists.

Center staff described her as “majestic, yet spunky.”

Annabelle the owl’s team of helpers gave her the “green light” for release on Saturday, March 5, according to the news release. Soon after, rehabilitators drove her to northern Wisconsin where other snowy owls had recently been spotted.

“As the Snowy Owls have begun their northern migration back to the Arctic Circle, rehabilitators wanted to give her every leg up in the journey back home,” officials said.

Annabelle was released the morning of Sunday, March 6, according to the news release.

“I can’t express what a joy and relief it was to see the Snowy Owl soar off into the skies” Crystal Sharlow-Schaefer, wildlife director, said in a statement.

The snowy owl was one of two animals the WHS Wildlife Rehabilitation Center took in after the oil spill, according to the news release. A Canada Goose “covered in oil and contaminants” was admitted on Dec. 11 and released several weeks after.

“We’d like to extend our thanks to Komatsu Mining for their financial support of both patients’ ongoing care, as well as other amazing donors who made contributions to support these special patients,” Sharlow-Schaefer said.

Manufacturer Komatsu said the 400 gallons of oil spilled into a storm sewer drain that leads to the Menomonee River in Milwaukee was a “very regrettable accident,” according to a statement provided to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at the time.

Oil was found in both the Menomonee River and the Milwaukee River, the newspaper reported, and Komatsu said its crews were cleaning the spill and donating to organizations caring for affected wildlife.

Kaitlyn Alanis is a McClatchy National Real-Time Reporter based in Kansas. She is an agricultural communications & journalism alumna of Kansas State University.

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