By Molly Daly

By Molly Daly

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Last winter, a record number of Snowy Owls visited the lower 48 states, an event that offered scientists a terrific opportunity to study the iconic raptors, so the non-profit Project Snowstorm was born. Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center in Kennett Square is playing a big role in the research.

When a Snowy Owl meets an untimely end, postmortem testing is performed. Associate Professor of Avian Medicine and Pathology at the New Bolton Center Dr. Sherrill Davison says her team conducts necropsies — animal autopsies.

“We also take samples for toxicology, to see if there are any poisons in the birds, bacteria or any parasites.”

Some birds had been exposed to rat poison; at least one died of it outright. Davison says the birds recovered in the northern states had parasites, but owls found in our area and points south didn’t.

“They were eating very well, they were doing very well. So the birds that were in this local area were in good body condition.”

That disproves a misconception that visiting Snowy Owls are doomed to die of starvation. So how did they die? The tests showed most of them succumbed to trauma, from flying into power lines, or being hit by cars or planes.

To read more about the testing and research performed at the New Bolton Center, click here.

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