Cindy Cardiff and her two sons, Darwin and Wyatt, were surprised when they spotted a rare snowy owl after the annual Christmas concert wrapped up this week at Squamish Elementary School.
They had a good look at it from afar, took a few pictures and continued to watch it in amazement, expecting it to take flight at any moment. But the longer they watched it, said Cardiff, the more they sensed something wasn't quite right about the bird, a species that is rarely seen in Squamish.
Cardiff called Thor Froslev, a bird rescue advocate in Squamish who helps rehabilitate injured eagles at his Brackendale Art Gallery, for advice and before long they were heading to the art gallery so the bird could be examined.
"He told us how to grab it and Darwin grabbed some gloves, and he grabbed the owl and then we put a blanket over top of her," said Cardiff. "(Darwin) held her between his legs and we transported her to the Brackendale Art Gallery."
It was quite a trip with the snowy owl towering over the family dog, a dachshund named Susie.
Froslev said he held the bird overnight and the next day it was taken to the Wildlife Rescue Association (WRA) in Burnaby.
Many snowy owls have been found across the province in the last few weeks. Some have been discovered dead while others were malnourished. A number of wildlife experts have suggested that something happened in their primary arctic habitat, which is causing snowy owls to leave their home area in larger numbers than usual.
Cardiff was told by a WRA worker that the initial inspection of the owl indicated the bird was healthy, but malnourished, like many other snowy owls found recently around Vancouver and on Vancouver Island.
"They were going to look after her and then they were hoping to be able to release her back up here to Squamish," said Cardiff. "They invited us to be part of it."
Sadly, after spending a night at the SARS facility and going through a more thorough examination, Yolanda Brooks of SARS said the bird was discovered to be in very poor health.
"It was completely emaciated, the bird was hypothermic, lethargic, it had lice and basically its blood levels were so low it would have needed blood transfusions to have any chance of surviving," said the WRA communications coordinator.
The WRA staff decided the most humane thing to do was to euthanize the owl.
Brooks noted that the snowy owl came into the WRA just a few months after a screech owl was brought to the centre in Burnaby from Whistler. Screech owls are an endangered species so the WRA staff was excited to take the bird in.
That owl has been rehabilitated and released.