Owls saved from starvation ready for release

Owls which were facing starvation when snow made it impossible for them to catch their prey will be released back into the wild today after they were nursed back to health at a Yorkshire sanctuary.

Geoff Mottram, who runs the sanctuary in Thurlstone, near Barnsley, said a large number of stricken birds were brought to him during the worst of the winter weather, all of them weak from a lack of food.

During a 10-day period in December, 11 owls were brought to Mr Mottram for assistance after being found in a variety of locations, including at the roadside and in domestic gardens.

Mr Mottram, who is more used to dealing with owls with conditions such as broken wings, said none of his latest charges were injured, but were facing death because their usual food sources had disappeared.

He added: "I usually get an injured owl in most weeks, but with the snow coming down, they couldn't catch any food. There was nothing wrong with them apart from hunger.

"Owls only eat from day to day, they don't store anything like other animals, so after two or three days of bad weather they really start to go downhill.

"Walkers and farmers were just finding owls about, one chap found an owl in the tree in his garden and had just been able to reach up and get hold of it. If you can pick an owl up there is something amiss."

Species brought into the sanctuary in December included barn owls, tawny owls and little owls, all of which rely for food on small mammals which were hidden beneath the snow.

Mr Mottram said the major challenge had been getting the weakened birds to eat at all, and added that some had been force-fed to give them the energy they needed to begin a recovery.

The diet he gave them included mice, rats and shrews which the sanctuary has deep frozen, along with moles which are provided by the local molecatcher.

Mr Mottram said yesterday: "Moles are very high in protein and they have really helped us build the owls back up. They are all ready for release now, so I will take them back to where they were found to make sure they are back on their own territory."