'He is ready to go': Snowy owl nursed back to health after poisoned for 2nd time – Seacoastonline.com

It’s gotten to the point where Jane Kelly talks about her latest reclamation project, a snowy owl named Seabrook, like an old, familiar and somewhat cantankerous friend.
“He’s just being a pill, all he will do is eat quail,” said Kelly when asked about the progress of the beloved owl who is now thumbing his beak at other dinner offerings like rats, mice and day-old chicks at Kelly’s raptor rehabilitation and education center, On The Wing in Epping. 
“He’s getting stronger and he’s getting crazier which means he is ready to go.”
That last part is a bit of a minor miracle as very soon Kelly will escort Seabrook on a chopper ride up to the coast of Northern Maine to get a jump on the summer migration back to the Arctic – and far away from bait boxes filled with rodenticide that twice nearly grounded this graceful apex predator.
It was back in the beginning of February that Kelly was first alerted of a snowy owl in distress on Seabrook Beach and quickly relayed the news to one of her vast network of dedicated wildlife photographers, Jonathan Herrick.
“Photographers are a gift to us because they are the eyes and the ears out in the field,” Kelly explained. “(Jonathan) could literally identify every single snowy owl and tell you the difference of each one.”
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Each winter Herrick, of Newmarket, and his fellow wildlife photographers head for what he calls, “the migratory highway,” a target-rich stretch for bird watchers here on the Seacoast from Rye Harbor to Plum Island. In a normal winter, Herrick says he will see perhaps one or two snowy owls over the winter in this stretch, but this year documented a whopping seven which stayed in the area for the entire winter.
“I could go out on almost any given day and if I didn’t find all seven, I knew where they were hiding,” Herrick said of the territorial nature of these apex predators whom he got to know intimately through his telephoto lens.
“They will pick an area, claim it as their own and kick out all the other predators from the area.”
When Herrick got a call in early February from Kelly about a distressed snowy owl on Seabrook Beach he knew immediately not only which owl he was looking for, but where to look as well. With the tide about to crest and a winter storm on the way, Herrick found a bedraggled and woozy Seabrook on the inland side of the beach near the Hampton Bridge pinned up against the steep dunes.
“He was right there on the edge of the water getting ready for the high tide to come up and suck him away,” said Herrick. “His wings were all out and droopy, so it was very obvious to me that he was in distress.”
The photographer quickly threw his coat over the bird and snatched him from the tide with little struggle.
“It was an easy catch,” Herrick recalled. “If he had got caught in that water or that snowstorm he probably wouldn’t have survived. He literally put his head into my chest and crumbled like a baby.”
Back in Epping, it didn’t take Kelly long to make a diagnosis as to what was ailing the bird. Pushing the feathers away from Seabrook’s chest revealed large black mass veins caused by massive internal hemorrhaging.
“Their veins are really, really tiny and to just see blue coming through the wing feathers was insane,” said Kelly. 
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The affliction is the end result of a lethal cycle that occurs when owls and other raptors eat mice and rats that have ingested anticoagulant rodenticide from bait boxes that are prevalent throughout the state and the Seacoast. The poison works by interfering with the activation of vitamin K, a critical component in the production of blood-clotting factors in the liver. The bait boxes are extremely effective in killing a wide array of rodents, but unfortunately just as destructive to predators that feed on those infected rodents.
“This is about us, it’s not about the rodents because the rodents are following the garbage,” Kelly added. “We need to come up with a better way for containing garbage and not using poison.”
Since 2015, “second generation” anticoagulants are no longer sold to consumers over the counter, but pest control companies can still use the products. California is the lone state to outlaw second generation anticoagulant use, but there is pending legislation in Massachusetts as well.
“Massachusetts is way ahead of us in terms of getting this stuff banned and California and Canada have done a great job getting this stuff banned,” said Kelly who has had inquiries from both Governor Sununu’s office as well as the state’s Department of Agriculture after seeing Seabrook’s travails documented on social media.
“People need to reach out to our state representatives and our state senators and we need to get a bill passed.”
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Sadly, Kelly now treats nearly as many raptors suffering from second generation rodenticide poisoning as those that have been injured by car strikes. To control the hemorrhaging, Kelly injected Seabrook with vitamin K every two hours initially to help promote clotting and stop the excessive bleeding and then tapered it down over a two-week period. Within three days she had Seabrook outside where he soon graduated to her largest enclosure. On March 13, Seabrook was released at pristine Odiorne State Park in Rye, seemingly far away from the bait boxes that had nearly caused his demise. An overflow crowd of more than 200 were on hand to watch the triumphant release.
“It was a super amazing release … and then it only took him three days to go back to Seabrook,” said Herrick with a chuckle.
According to Herrick, once back at his favorite beach off Route 1A, Seabrook wasted little time reclaiming his old territory and was thriving throughout March and April, eating mice, voles, and the photographer even got some shots of him swooping up with a rabbit.
“And then just in the last few days he started to turn quickly,” said Herrick, who observed a seemingly punch drunk Seabrook rock back and forth on the roof of a beachfront house on Seabrook Beach. “He would lose balance and then catch himself.”
For a week, Herrick and two other concerned photographers kept close tabs on the bird. When one of those photographers, Steve McGinley, witnessed a groggy Seabrook uncharacteristically sipping water from a water fountain in the beginning of May, the bird was once again scooped up and sent back to Kelly and On The Wing in Epping.
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The good news is that just a few weeks after his second rescue, the ever-resilient raptor is once again looking like the majestic apex predator that both Kelly and Herrick recognize. The owl was scheduled to take one more blood clot test this week and Kelly has begun to let him test out his wings tethered to a long line to monitor his flight progress.
“Putting them in a pen and hoping they are flying around is not going to give you a clear indication,” said Kelly, who is a master falconer. “This way I can see the wing motion, how high he can get up, and how far he can fly. It’s a better way of gauging a bird for me.”
Kelly says that snowy owls are hypersensitive, making a long and jostling car ride all the way up the northern Maine coast highly problematic. In that regard, she is very thankful that her longtime friend and pilot, Karl Leinsing, has offered her and Seabrook a lift in his chopper.
“They look stoic and they look like they are tolerant of people, but if you ever held one they are buzzing with energy and their heartbeats are going a mile-a-minute,” Kelly pointed out. “They are frantic birds. They have got great poker faces, let’s put it that way.
“Hopefully this will give him a jump start on his migration so he doesn’t have to work as hard to get where he is going.”
To learn more about the dangers of rodenticide visit Raptors Are the Solution at www.raptorsarethesolution.org.


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