© Loraine Izzo
A screech owl that lost a lot of body weight because of the harsh winter.
Wildlife rehabilitators say that animals - mainly waterfowl, owls, hawks and some mammals - are under serious stress due to the cold winter.

Two months of snow cover and brutal bouts of arctic air are endangering wildlife.

Wildlife rehabilitators say that animals — mainly waterfowl, owls, hawks and some mammals — are under serious stress. Many have starved because their food sources have been covered with snow and ice and the water they need to survive has been frozen.

"It's been a really hard, long, cold, desperate and brutal winter for wildlife," said Taffy Williams, a wildlife rehabilitator from Yonkers. "A lot of raptors, hawks and owls are being found dead."

Animals have been foraging in places they usually don't — risky places such as urban streets or sun-warmed banks along parkways.

© Loraine Izzo
A red-tailed hawk being nursed back to health after getting frozen into icy snow near a reservoir in Yonkers.
"Anything that's looking to graze, that includes deer, they're having a hard time," Williams said. "The winter's been really hard on shore birds and birds of prey and also song birds. They look on the ground for seeds and any kind of grazing material."

A screech owl injured by a car in Pleasantville was also emaciated, said Loraine Izzo, a rehabilitator from Bronxville. She recently cared for a goose and mallard duck found starving near the mostly frozen Bronx River. A redtail hawk, now on the mend, was found near the reservoir in Yonkers.

"His feet were dug into the snow and his tail was frozen into the snow," Izzo said. "It was horrible."

A turkey vulture that almost starved to death is recuperating in the back yard of Marilyn Leybra, a rehabilitator, of Pomona. She said a wide range of animals have been affected.

"The Canada geese are also catching the devil," Leybra said. "I see them day after day, just sitting ... They look like statues. They're trying to conserve every bit of energy."

'It's hard for all wildlife'

Lori Severino, a public information officer with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said field staff have seen signs that deer have been "pawing down" through the snow to find food and that turkeys are seeking food at areas with "spring seep," where groundwater keeps the area open for foraging. Ducks and geese, she said, seek out open water and keep moving if they can't find it.

"As the cold weather is prolonged and if we get heavy snow or ice cover on the snow, then things become more problematic," Severino wrote last week in an email. But, she added, "DEC has not received any reports of winter kill so far this winter and animals that have been observed seem to be healthy. Energy reserves are diminishing in the animals but nothing 'drastic' as of now."

Kevin Hynes, a wildlife biologist in the department's Delmar office, recently sent out a notice asking for carcasses of hawks and owls.

"We're getting more calls about dead hawks and owls and I wanted to confirm it was snow cover and the weather rather than some other potential disease," Hynes said.

He said hawks and owls depend on voles, a kind of small rodent, to stay alive and that the voles have been able to hide under all the snow.

As fat deposits get depleted in the hunting birds, it gets harder for them to regulate their heat.

He said the birds impacted have mostly been redtail hawks, screech owls and barn owls.

Walter Chadwick, of the Hudson River Audubon Society of Westchester, said feeders and a warmed drinking water dispenser for birds at Lenoir Preserve in Yonkers have been swarmed.

"The birds flock to the feeders," Chadwick said. "It's hard for all wildlife. They can't get through that ice and there's been constant cold weather."

He said people wanting to help birds should put out black oil sunflower seeds and suet, which provide a lot of energy, and a pie pan with water.

© Joe Larese/The Journal News
A view of a turkey vulture, photographed March 3, 2015 and being cared for by wildlife rehabilitator Marilyn Leybra at her home in Pomona.
Migrating birds 'are probably doomed'

Snow has been covering the ground since mid-January across much of the Northeast. The National Weather Service said February was the coldest on record in many places in the region.

AccuWeather meteorologist Evan Duffey said that temperatures this time of year should be in the 40s, but as of Friday, only five days had cracked 40 in 2015.

Chadwick said many resident birds have learned to adapt to the cold, but those flying up from the south this time of year could be in peril, including redwing blackbirds and snow geese.

Joanne Dreeben, a rehabilitator from Yonkers, noted the American woodcock usually shows up this time of year.

"The early arrivals are probably doomed," she said. "They eat almost exclusively earthworms."

Hynes said birds that come this time of year time their trip by hours of daylight.

"They have no idea what the temperature is up here," Hynes said.

Dreeben said starvation is not the only problem. Birds typically have parasites in their systems that aren't a problem when healthy.

"But when a bird gets debilitated, there's a bloom of internal parasites," Dreeben said. "It's a very difficult thing for them to survive."

© Joe Larese/The Journal News
Canada geese are seen huddling in the snow at the Willow Tree Park in Monsey. Wildlife rehabilitator Marilyn Leybra says this brutal winter has been especially hard on wildlife.
Source: The Journal News