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Bigger nest wanted: Bird centers continue care while eying more space

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An emaciated and dehydrated snowy owl is being cared for at the University of Minnesota Raptor Center after being spotted in peril near the Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore of Lake Superior Friday.

A photographer taking photos of the owl noticed something wasn't quite right, so he captured it and brought it to the visitor's center, Wildwoods Rehabilitation, which initially cared for the bird, wrote on Facebook

Winter months can be challenging for some birds, who look for open water and food sources, and caring for emaciated birds can be tricky. Which is why within an hour of taking the bird in, the owl was on its way to the Raptor Center, where "it has the best chance of survival and recovery," Wildwoods wrote.

"He is so skinny that his future is very uncertain at this point," according to Wildwoods on Facebook Saturday. "We hope he will pull through."

This is the third snowy owl the Raptor Center has cared for this year. As of Dec. 15, it had 43 birds at its clinic and has cared for 746 raptors in 2014, its website says.

The Raptor Center, which also provides avian medicine training, research and education programs, is currently building an education wing and an updated outdoor bird housing area, to create a better experience for visitors and expand its care for the animals, the center said.

National Eagle Center

The Raptor Center isn't the only facility that is working to expand so it can care for more animals.

The National Eagle Center in Wabasha, which has become a major tourism draw for the city, doesn't have space to care for any more eagles.

Currently five eagle ambassadors – four bald eagles and one golden eagle – live at the center and it is hoping to expand its eagle care facilities so it can provide ongoing care for the eagles as they age, as well as continue its mission to educate the public, according to the National Eagle Center's website.

Over the years the National Eagle Center has moved from sharing information about wintering bald eagles from an outdoor observation deck, to a place that educates the public about eagles and their habitat, while giving visitors an up-close look at the animals, according to its website.

The National Eagle Center believes it'll need to add at least 12,000 more square feet to the 15,000-square foot center, which would include more space for the eagles, as well as classroom space and an auditorium, the Rochester Post Bulletin reports. But it doesn't have any plans or cost estimates in place.

The National Eagle Center began as EagleWatch in 1989, a time when eagle populations were just beginning to rebound after years of decline.

Eagle population decline is blamed on habitat loss and the chemical DDT, which got into their eggs and resulted in fewer hatchlings, the Rochester Post Bulletin reports. Since DDT was banned and a recovery plan enacted in Minnesota, populations have stabilized. A 2005 statewide Known Nest Survey located 872 active nests, according to state Department of Natural Resources.

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