Unlikely pair teams up for owl rescue

It might seem like an unlikely pairing, but for a snowplow driver and an urban naturalist, sometimes life (or wildlife) has other ideas.

The pairing in question is Wood Lake Nature Center’s naturalist Scott Ramsay, and Minnesota Department of Transportation plow driver Jesse Quam. Over the past years, Ramsay and Quam have teamed up numerous times to help injured animals or keep tabs on wildlife in the area.

On the morning of December 30, this pairing proved advantageous for an injured snowy owl alongside Interstate 494. Quam, a lifelong lover of nature and wildlife, was plowing the interstate that snowy morning when he noticed the owl near the median.

 “I was lucky that I saw the owl,” recalled Quam. “I was clearing snow off of the drains on I-494 and barely saw it out of the corner of my eye. I hit the brakes and knew immediately that I needed to call Scott.”

He immediately called Ramsay to hatch a rescue mission to aid the injured bird.

“The phone rang that morning, and I heard ‘Hey Scott, this is Jesse. I have an owl that needs help,’” remembered Ramsay.

The bird had likely been clipped by a passing vehicle, and was unable to fly, stranding it along the center median of the busy interstate, near Highway 169. Quam and another plow driver were nearby in their snowplows, ready to assist Ramsay by blocking traffic if needed.

For Ramsay, it was only a matter of minutes before he was ready to help.

“I grabbed my crate, a big landing net and some heavy-duty gloves and headed over,” said Ramsay. “With Jesse and his colleague ready to help, I knew we had a shot at safely capturing the owl and getting it out of harm’s way.”

With the snowplows blocking a lane to keep Ramsay protected from traffic, the naturalist was able to safely stop his vehicle and slowly creep up alongside the median. Darting forward, with skill and agility, Ramsay was able to safely capture the bird with his long-armed landing net.

“The owl was totally focused on the idling snowplow, so I was able to sneak up on him and catch him before he saw me and darted away,” noted Ramsay.

Once caught, Ramsay carefully removed the owl from the net and secured it in the crate, bringing it back to Wood Lake Nature Center. Center manager Paul Smithson had already called the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center to request a ride for the owl to the facility, where it would be evaluated and treated for its injuries.

The snowy owl, a young hatch-year male (less than 1-year-old), had a broken collarbone due to its accident. Since December, the owl has been recuperating at the Raptor Center and will be released back into the wild sometime in the coming weeks. The Raptor Center recently featured the owl on a video posted to the organization’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheRaptorCenter/videos/321707352548943 .

Ramsay gives all the credit to Quam for spotting the owl and caring enough to get it the help it needed.

“It’s great to have people like Jesse out on the roads, keeping an eye out for wildlife,” Ramsay acknowledged. “It is truly encouraging that he cares enough to find help when needed.”

And for Quam, it’s enough to know that the owl will be returned to its habitat shortly.

“It’s really exciting,” Quam explained. “The bird was in trouble where it was, and I’m just glad I could help.”

Ramsay offers the following bird-related tips for residents as the winter ends:

  • Keep bird feeders full during the month of March, as food supplies for birds and animals have dwindled throughout the winter months.
  • The DNR is asking people with bird feeders to raise them up to at least 6 feet off the ground to help prevent Chronic Wasting Disease in deer that may be sampling food from bird feeders.
  • If you spot an injured owl, eagle, hawk or falcon, contact the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center at 612-624-4745.
  • Other questions about birds or wildlife can be directed to Wood Lake Nature Center at 612-861-9365.