This Snowy Owl Was Coated in Oil After the Milwaukee River Spill

After three months, the beautiful bird has been released back into the wild.

Anabelle was covered in oli when she was rescued; Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Humane Society

A snowy owl has returned to the skies after 93 days in care at the Wisconsin Humane Society Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Milwaukee.

This majestic and spunky owl, named Annabelle, was admitted to the center on Dec. 3 after being injured in an oil spill on the Milwaukee River that emanated from the Komatsu mining equipment factory near American Family Field. Annabelle was discovered by an employee at a Milwaukee recycling center, who reached out to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center for help. The snowy owl was covered in oil, hypothermic and in respiratory distress. She would not have survived without human intervention, according to the center.

A wildlife volunteer captured the owl and brought her to the center. 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 to fly but being weighted down in oil.

The snowy owl’s extensive treatment included thorough baths to remove all the oil and contaminants, specialized medications, frequent bandage changes, additional on-site and off-site visits with veterinary specialists and flight reconditioning.

The snowy owl was given the green light by her medical team on Saturday and was promptly driven to blustery northern Wisconsin for her release Sunday morning. As snowy owls have begun their northern migration back to the Artic Circle, rehabilitators wanted to give her every leg up in the journey back home and drove several hours north to an area where there have been recent snowy owl sightings, according to the Wisconsin Humane Society.

“I can’t express what a joy and relief it was to see the snowy owl soar off into the skies,” Wisconsin Humane Society wildlife director Crystal Sharlow-Schaefer said.

Most recognizable by their white plumage, yellow eyes and distinctive moustache, snowy owls breed in the far north of Canada and Alaska in the Arctic Circle, but sometimes migrate to Wisconsin for winter.

There is still much to be learned about this charismatic and exceptionally resilient species, but we do know from our experience that this species – especially first-year birds – are often inexperienced in urban environments and can sometimes find their way into trouble, the Wisconsin Humane Society noted.

The WHS Wildlife Rehabilitation Center also admitted a Canada goose on December 11 that was covered in oil and contaminants and emaciated. After several weeks in care, the goose made a full recovery and was released back into the Milwaukee area.

The cost of care for the snowy owl and the Canada goose was covered by Komatsu and Wisconsin Humane Society donors.

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.