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Snowy owl finds donated to WDC

Michael Johnson

This yellow-eyed, black beaked bird is easily recognizable. It is 20-28 inches long with a 49-59 inch wingspan. These birds can weigh anywhere from 3.5 to 6.6 pounds. It is one of the largest species of owl and in North America, is on average the heaviest owl species. The adult male is virtually pure white, but females and young bird have some dark scalloping; the young are heavily barred and dark spotting may even predominate. Its' thick plumage, heavily feathered taloned feet, and colouration render the Snowy Owl well-adapted for life north of the Arctic Circle.

This species of owls nest on the ground, building a scrape on top of a mound or boulder. A site with good visibility is chosen, such as the top of a mound with ready access to hunting areas and a lack of snow.

Most of the owls' hunting is done in the "sit and wait" style; prey may be captured on the ground or in the air, or fish may be snatched off the surface of bodies of water using their sharp talons. Each bird must capture roughly 7 to 12 mice per day to meet its food requirement and can eat more than 1,600 lemmings per year.

Snowy Owl calls are varied, but the alarm call is a barking, almost quacking krek-krek; the female also has a softer mewling pyee-pyee pre prek-prek. The song is a deep repeated gahw. They may also clap their beak in response to threats or annoyances. While called clapping, it is believed this sound may actually be a clicking of the tongue, not the beak.

Though Snowy Owls have few predators, the adults are very watchful and are equipped to defend against any kind of threat towards them or their offspring.

This particular Snowy Owl was found out of its normal Canadian habitat on West Battle Lake, near Clitherall, Minnesota by David Richter and his daughter Victoria, 11, who were vacationing from Florida with family members, Dave and Mary Ann Schmidt in 2011. One morning while hiking through the woods to take photographs, "we saw a white clump of what we thought was snow, but it didn't look familiar" according to Victoria Richter, "as we got closer we recognized that this wasn't snow, but a Snowy Owl." The owl was no longer alive, so they brought the beautiful bird back to find out more about the species and why it had migrated to Minnesota. It was a learning experience for Victoria and the family decided it was an opportunity for kids of all ages to learn about the Snowy Owl.

Having grown up in Wadena himself, David Richter knew about the recent tornado that had left the school building and contents destroyed. The school contents included many taxidermy animals donated for the students to study over several years. Richter and his daughter talked with family members Dave and Mary Ann (Richter) Schmidt about having the owl mounted as a gift to Wadena-Deer Creek Public Schools. Both Dave and Mary Ann graduated from Wadena High School, so this was their way of giving back to their school. They decided to bring the owl to Dewey's Taxidermy in Wadena. Owner Dewey Schmitz indicated the owl was in perfect condition and had likely died of starvation because it was out of its normal habitat. The Schmidts paid for the mounting and donated it to the Wadena Deer Creek Middle/High School for students to learn from for years to come.

When Wadena-Deer Creek High School science teacher, Kelly Shrode, learned of the Snowy Owl donation, she was thrilled to have such a rare species added to the school's collection.

"As a science teacher for 10 years, I can honestly say that one of the best things about my job is the ability to teach students with a hands-on approach," Shrode said. "It has been a long-standing tradition to have great community support for this district and it seems that tradition is still strong. I am excited to be receiving a Snowy Owl to add to our collection and know that it will become an integral part of our environmental science curriculum."

Richter's daughter Victoria is particularly excited about being able to share the Snowy Owl with kids from the Wadena area.

"We have talked about that Snowy Owl many times since we returned to Florida," David said, "Although Victoria never had the opportunity to see the showcases of taxidermy animals previously at the high school; she is hopeful others will have the opportunity to learn about the Snowy Owl from their family donation to the school. Victoria is excited to see if others will also donate unique taxidermy projects to the school so she will be able to see and learn from them on her visits to Minnesota in the future."