MONTANA RAPTOR CONSERVATION CENTER

Last fall, Montana Raptor Conservation Center admitted an uncommon raptor under very uncommon circumstances. The bird was a male great gray owl, a species not frequently seen in southwest Montana. The owl was rescued in Yellowstone National Park and brought to the center for rehabilitation.

“It was kind of historical because it was the only great gray rescued inside of, and released back into, the park,” MRCC Director Becky Kean said. “Normally, the National Park Service doesn’t rescue injured animals. The policy is to let nature take its course.” 

However, park rangers made an exception in the case of this owl. Since it had been struck by a car and suffered a human-related injury, they felt that it would be appropriate to rescue and get treatment for the owl.

The bird spent two-and-a-half months in rehabilitation recovering from a fractured radius. In the meantime, Kean said, the raptor center volunteers came to respect and admire the magnificent bird. “He was huge, but he would fly down without a sound to get one mouse at time,” she said.  

In early January, Kean drove the owl back to the park and released him into the Yellowstone wilderness.

Two days later, the owl was dead. A Park Service employee found his body about 5 miles from the release site near Gardiner, Montana. Bands on its legs identified the owl as the one MRCC rehabilitated, and a necropsy revealed the owl had a broken pelvis and detached femur. It also revealed heavy metals near the fracture site suggesting the bird had been shot and died from the wounds. 

“It’s very disheartening,” Kean said. “All the time and effort the volunteers put into rehabilitating the owl … It’s so sad that it ended this way.” Shooting and killing the bird is also illegal because the Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects great gray owls.

The incident was reported to the local game warden, but despite ongoing federal and state investigations, Kean doubts that the perpetrator will be found or fined. 

If anyone has information regarding the case, Kean urges them to call 1-800-tip-mont, noting that callers can remain anonymous.