Hedwig the Snowy Owl suffered a gunshot wound a couple weeks ago. After surgery, she spent two weeks recovering at the Wild Bird Fund in Manhattan and is now being housed at the Raptor Trust in New Jersey. The purple patch on her left shoulder protects her wing from being damaged in the cage. Video: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

Ornitho-logic

Watch a Snowy Owl Recoup From Surgery at an NYC Wildlife Rehab Center

When an injured visitor was grounded before a blizzard, a city full of bird lovers came to its aid.

Meet Hedwig, an aptly named Snowy Owl who flew all the way from the Arctic tundra to the Big Apple to enjoy a milder winter (and also probably a #pizzarat or two). That is, until she was shot near an NYC airport—likely the result of a legal loophole that allows airports to use lethal means to clear owls and other birds off their tarmacs.

But Hedwig is a lucky one: She was found and rescued two weekends ago, right before a record blizzard hit the city. A Queens resident found her struggling to fly a mile away from LaGuardia Airport, and called up the Bronx Zoo, which in turn referred him to the Wild Bird Fund, a rehab center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. After examining videos of the owl, the WBF asked the rescuer to shuttle her over to the center. When he and the bird showed up though, the staff realized Hedwig’s wounds were too severe to be treated there.

That’s when Dr. Shachar Malka stepped in. Malka, who works for the Humane Society of New York and also collaborates with the WBF, is known to be the most skilled raptor veterinarian in the city. He brought Hedwig to his office and used X-rays to locate metal fragments in her right shoulder and pectoral muscle—one of the biggest and most vital flight muscles in a bird’s body. (There was no bullet—it probably passed straight through the owl.) With a deft bit of suturing, Malka closed up the wound and sent Hedwig back to the WBF for meds and rest.

Rehab raptors usually have their antibiotics injected into their mice. But on this particular day, Hedwig refused to scarf her breakfast down whole, so the WBF staff had to use a tube to delicately feed her the meds. Video: Mike Fernandez/National Audubon Society

After two weeks of treatment from the WBF’s doting staff, Hedwig’s hero came by to give her one last lift. He took her down to the Raptor Trust in Millington, New Jersey, where she’ll have plenty of room to spread and test out her wings. If she recovers fully, she’ll be released; if not, she’ll stay on at the Trust and join its fleet of education raptors.

“The only way we can serve our patients is by working with other groups,” says Rita McMahon, director of the WBF. Luckily for the birds of NYC, there are plenty of hands on deck to help.

Correction: Hedwig's helpers at the WBF were staff members, not volunteers.