A Maine State Police trooper rescued an owl Thursday morning that appeared to have been struck by a vehicle on Interstate 95, but the bird later died at a bird rehabilitation center.

The incident highlights what the rehabilitation center described as a worse-than-usual early winter for owl injuries linked to car accidents.

Trooper Bernard Brunette, previously a police officer in Waterville, was driving north on the interstate in Palmyra, just north of mile marker 154, at about 7:45 a.m., when he noticed an owl in the snowbank on the median side, according to a news release on the Maine State Police Facebook page.

The bird – a young barred owl – was apparently struck by a vehicle and was suffering from exposure. The bird struggled briefly, but Brunette was able to get his jacket over the owl and secure the bird in his cruiser, police said.

The owl was taken to the Moosehead Trail Trading Post on Route 100 in Palmyra where it was put in a box and warmed up.

Avian Haven, of Freedom, took custody of the bird, according to the statement. Avian Haven later reported on Facebook that the bird had died in the intensive care unit.

The owl suffered a broken leg, according to Diane Winn, executive director of the nonprofit rehabilitation center. The owl is considered a hatch-year bird, Winn said, meaning the bird hatched last spring.

Winn said the owl was one of three such injured birds Thursday morning, a common pattern lately with sometimes two or three cases per day and between 60 to 70 cases since October.

“This has been an extreme casuality early winter for barred owls,” Winn said. “They’re all car hits – I don’t know why the car hits are in such large numbers.”

While the numbers are higher than usual, it’s not uncommon for hatch-year birds to be injured by cars this time of year because they’re leaving their parents’ territory for the first time and hunting on their own, according to Winn.

These owls will often hunt for food by roadsides Winn said, because people throw litter from their cars, which attracts mice – prey for the owls.

“This year we started seeing car-hit owls in October – well before the weather was cold,” she said.

Winn advised motorists to be watchful, especially around dusk, as “young owls out hunting may not have their street smarts.”

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