The rare owl has since been transported to The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, where it recently underwent a successful feather transplant procedure.
Turns out that in addition to beak damage that may have been associated with the bus accident, the owl, which was hatched last summer, also had "many flight feathers that looked like they had been singed by an intense heat source," says Lori Arent, a clinic manager at the center.
Arent says the burn injuries "very much reminded us of birds we've seen that have flown over methane burners," adding she doesn't believe the bus and burner incidents are related.
Because the owl can't fly well without a full compliment of feathers, Arent administered an "imping" procedure that essentially involved gluing in temporary ones for nine of his 12 tail feathers and half of them on each wing. (Read a Raptor Center release with more information about imping here.)
The procedure "allows him to fly in the style he needs to hunt and survive, and when he goes into normal molt a whole new set will come in," Arent says.
Snowy owls typically reside in arctic climates and aren't often spotted in Minnesota, though in winter they can sometimes be seen around Lake Superior and in the vicinity of the MSP Airport.
"They're really attracted to large open spaces," Arent says, adding that it's extremely unusual for one of them to find up somewhere as far south as D.C.
Arent says the owl, which she and her colleagues simply call "the D.C. snowy owl" -- "We don't name our patients," she says -- will be taken out for a test flight early next week. If it goes well, center officials will then decide whether to release the bird in Minnesota or send it back to the east coast.