A female snowy owl that was rescued from a vacant building in Portland on Wednesday is reportedly doing well and will soon be released back into the wild.

The bird was taken to the Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center in Freedom on Thursday after a local man, who is an experienced falconer, was asked if he could remove the owl from the Grand Trunk Railroad building on India Street.

Tom Gagne of Yarmouth climbed three flights of stairs to reach the owl, which was trapped inside the building. Passers-by could see the snowy owl perched behind a window.

Gagne cornered the bird before throwing a jacket over it. A rescue team from Avian Haven transported the owl to the rehabilitation center in Waldo County.

“It is doing great. It is just about in perfect shape. The owl is nice and plump,” said Diane Winn, one of the managers of Avian Haven. Blood samples taken from the owl supported what Winn and her staff were already seeing – a healthy bird that probably went into the building in search of food. There were was some initial concern that the owl might be sick because of its unwillingness to fly away but that is not the case, Winn added.

“Tom said the building was full of pigeons, alive and dead,” Winn said.


When crews from the Portland Fire Department opened windows to the Grand Trunk building, the bird refused to fly away.

“The food source was good. Why leave?” Winn speculated, referring to the pigeons.

Winn said another snowy owl “was dead on arrival” when it was brought into Avian Haven from Boothbay Harbor Thursday. Winn said the bird looked as though it starved to death.

Snowy owls, which are usually a rare sight in southern Maine, have been spotted here in record numbers this season after food became scarce in their native Canada.

“They’re down here because they are starving,” Maine Audubon Society naturalist Doug Hitchcox said in a recent interview with the Portland Press Herald. Winn said she plans to keep the owl in Freedom until she has had the chance to contact Project SNOWstorm, a newly formed research project to study the invasion of snowy owls into the United States.

The project will use telemetry, banding, toxicology screening and DNA analysis to study owl behavior, their movements, and hunting habits. Winn said the owl she has been caring for could become part of that project. About two dozen owls will be tracked.

Avian Haven was incorporated in 1999 as a non-profit organization by Winn and her co-manager, Marc Payne. Over the years, the organization has seen its caseload grow from treating 300 animals to more than 1,500 a year. It is one of the largest wildlife rehabilitation centers in New England.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:


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