YORK – A local dairy farmer’s steady hand and love for raptors likely saved the life of a stunning but clumsy snowy owl.
Arielle Fitch, a lifelong farmer with a growing interest in falconry, found the frustrated owl at the bottom of an empty water tank on Noblehurst Farms on Steward Road, Linwood. With a ladder and a farmer’s knowledge of how to handle birds, she went into the tank to pick the bird up.
“Birds typically don’t fly straight up. So it was trapped,” said Fitch. “I’ve studied falconry and plan to get the certification someday, so I kept myself calm, had my gloves and sunglasses on for protection…the owl stayed calm, I’m sure it sensed I was helping it. Growing up on a farm I was around chickens and roosters, you would handle them the same way.”
She wrapped a handy high-visibility vest around the bird, which seemed to tolerate the handling just for a chance to get out of the tank.
Fitch tried setting the owl down, but it seemed to get caught in the vest as it tried to get its footing and fly off. Fitch gently picked the vest off the bird, held it in her arms for a moment, smoothed its feathers and tossed it in the air, where its wings caught the wind and whisked it off to brighter skies.
With the changing weather, snowy owls are beginning to wander back to their summer ranges in the high north. This winter was unusual in that a massive ‘irruption’ of snowys came down from the Arctic to hunt American fields and meadows and sometimes even Mexico and South America. The mysterious phenomenon happens every few years, bamboozling ornithologists but delighting bird watchers of all walks of life.
Fitch works full time feeding about 1,600 Holstein dairy cows at Noblehurst Dairy Farms.
“One of the perks of working on a farm is I get to see so many awesome birds of prey,” said Fitch. “Red tailed hawks, bald eagles, owls are all here. It is really once in a lifetime to actually handle one safely. […] Noblehurst is a wonderful farm family, and I’m so happy to be part of their team here.”