FAIRBANKS (AP) -- There's a reason bird watchers were able to get so close to a snowy owl that showed up in Fairbanks about a month ago -- it was on its last legs.
The bird was found dead on campus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in mid-November by Ed Clark, a seismologist who works in the Geophysical Institute.
Clark found the bird across the road from the UAF student recreation center in roughly the same spot where it had been photographed by Fairbanks Daily News-Miner photographer Sam Harrel more than a week earlier.
Clark, a bird watcher, had been looking for the owl after hearing that it was in Fairbanks. He found it when he spotted a group of ravens across from the student recreation center.
''I walked up to it to get a picture and it was lying in the snow dead,'' said Clark. ''The ravens were dive bombing it and had just started plucking feathers off it.''
Clark took the owl to the University of Alaska Museum and turned it over to Dan Gibson, the museum's bird collection manager. Gibson said the bird likely starved to death.
But Nancy DeWitt, executive director at the Alaska Bird Observatory, said there could be more to the story.
The observatory received a call from a woman who said she had hit a snowy owl with her car about two weeks before the owl's photo appeared in the paper.
She wrapped the owl in a coat and headed to a local veterinarian to get the bird checked out. But the bird came back to life as she was driving down College Road and she opened the passenger window to let it out. It was at about the same time an employee at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game spotted a snowy owl in the same area, DeWitt said.
It's possible that's the same bird that was found dead on campus at UAF. It may have been injured in the accident, although several people -- including DeWitt -- saw the university owl flying.
''I don't know if that's the same bird that got hit by the car or not,'' she said.
Snowy owls are rare visitors to the Interior, normally residing on farther north near Barrow. The 2-foot tall birds stand atop hummocks on the tundra to hunt lemmings and voles, their primary food sources.
There was a severe shortage of lemmings on the North Slope this year and bird experts speculated the bird showed up in Fairbanks looking for food. Instead, the owl was greeted by hostile ravens who pestered it wherever it went.
''I think if it had been healthy when it got here it probably would have just kept on going with the ravens harassing it,'' Gison said.
The owl's death is a gain for the museum's bird collection. While the museum has a plentiful supply of snowy owls collected from Barrow over the years, this is the first snowy owl that died in Fairbanks to make the collection.
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