ROSMAN — At least 300 bird watchers have descended on a western North Carolina farm to get a rare glimpse of a snowy owl.
The Times-News of Hendersonville reports birders from South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee traveled to Ricky Maybin’s farm in the upper French Broad River valley to get what’s described as the first known sighting of a snowy owl in western North Carolina in modern history.
Maybin said he didn’t know one bird could draw that much attention. He said he saw the owl last Saturday and thought it was one of the barn owls that usually nest on his farm.
“I didn’t know that it was a big thing,” Maybin said. “The first five (bird-watchers) that came, the lady who I think is the head of their group, she told me, ‘Do you care if I tell people?’ I said, ‘No, you go right ahead.’ I had no idea how many would show up.”
Maybin’s neighbor, Will Kilpatrick, had seen the bird at a distance about two weeks ago near the river but couldn’t identify it. Then, on Saturday morning, he looked out his kitchen window and saw the owl on the ground nearby.
“It was pretty overwhelming,” said Kilpatrick. “To turn 50 years old and you’ve got a white owl out your window. That was pretty cool.”
On Monday, the owl returned to his yard and this time, Kilpatrick could tell something wasn’t quite right with it. The bird was limping and seemed to be bracing itself with its wings.
Kilpatrick called Carlton Burke, a state-certified wildlife rehabilitator who runs Carolina Mountain Naturalists in Mills River. Using thick leather gloves, Burke easily captured the owl, which couldn’t fly and was grossly underweight and dehydrated. He said Kilpatrick called in the nick of time.
“This bird is probably half the weight it should be, at a minimum,” Burke said. “It could’ve fallen over and died at any time.”
The owl, nicknamed Tundra, was found to have an elevated white blood cell count, and has been placed on antibiotics and is being hand-fed to increase her weight.
“It’s gotten over the first critical stage,” Burke said. “I’m pretty hopeful at this point in time.”
Burke said it will take at least “several weeks” of feeding and rehabilitation before Tundra is ready to be released back into the wild.