LORAIN — A snowy owl that once made his home in the basement of the Lorain Palace Theatre perched on a lamppost at Spitzer Marina Wednesday afternoon, watching gulls fly by.
On Monday afternoon, Amy LeMonds, director of wildlife at the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center, released the bird from its cage near the lake. The owl gained strength at the center after it was discovered at the theater Jan. 16 by maintenance worker Mike Tillman.
LeMonds said when Tillman found the owl, it was emaciated, weighing just 1,096 grams — or 60 percent of a healthy weight.
The owl was slowly stabilized after a month of supportive care from the rehabilitation staff and now weights 1,714 grams. It was the first time in more than eight years that the center treated a snowy owl, whose presence in Lorain County is rare.
Snowy owls nest in the Arctic tundra and their migratory behavior is irruptive, meaning that some years there will be numerous sightings south of their nesting territory while other years there will be very few sightings. This year was a large irruption, likely due to a successful breeding season from an abundance of lemmings — the snowy owls’ favorite food, according to the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center.
Before the owl’s release, it was banded with information that will be reported to the Birding Banding Laboratory if it finds itself in a tough spot again.
“If he ever gets himself stuck in the basement again, we’ll know it’s this bird,” LeMonds said.
LeMonds said the marina was a perfect location to let the bird loose because snowy owls are commonly found in open fields and along lake edges, which are most similar to the arctic environment.
Since the owl was found at the theater, area residents have expressed interest in the animal, Tillman said.
“It’s just amazing, the outpouring of support from people who want to get a glimpse of it,” he said.
LeMonds cautioned, however, that the animal is wild, not a pet like the owl buddy of Harry Potter in the popular movie series.
“This is not Hedwig. Despite the cute fuzzy face, they can be aggressive when cornered,” she said.