Snowy owl hit by D.C. bus, taken to National Zoo

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Snowy owl hit by D.C. bus, taken to National Zoo

The snowy owl that's delighted commuters and bird watchers in Washington, D.C., over the past few weeks is being treated at the Smithsonian's National Zoo after being hit by a bus, police and wildlife officials say.

The owl was struck in downtown Washington sometime on Wednesday and brought to the zoo by metro police early Thursday.

"Upon arrival, the snowy owl was alert and responsive but subdued," the National Zoo said in a statement. "There were no obvious physical injuries but there was blood on the bird. Upon further examination, blood was found in the mouth which is consistent with suspected head trauma."

The owl, believed to be female, is being treated by Dr. Jessica Siegal-Willott, who administered pain medication and a "non-steroid inflammatory drug akin to aspirin."

According to Abby Hehmeyer, the district's wildlife biologist, the zoo will give the owl X-rays in order to determine any missed injuries, but she will be "released back into the wild by a state, or in this case a city-affiliated animal organization as soon as possible."

The bird, normally found in the northern circumpolar region, was first spotted in the nation's capital on Jan. 22, perched atop an awning at 15th and K streets.

"It appeared from seemingly out of nowhere," the Washington Post reported. "Pedestrians at rush hour stopped in their tracks. Was it some kind of omen?"

Not exactly. As it turns out, the sight of snowy owls in United States is not so rare. According to eBird, a bird-tracking website operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the arctic fowl has been spotted as far south as Jacksonville, Fla., in recent months. Several reports of snowy owls had already been made in the D.C. area.

And according to ecologists, snowy owls have flown south in record numbers this year.

“Nobody knew this was coming, that’s the amazing thing about it,” Scott Weidensaul, director of Project SNOWstorm, a research group recently launched to track the influx of snowy owls, told CBS-DC. “The magnitude of the irruption this year took everyone by surprise.”