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"D.C. Snowy" opens its beak shortly before it was released off Winter Street in Superior on April 19, 2014. The snowy owl was reportedly hit by a bus in Washington, D.C. and rehabilitated at the University of Minnesota Raptor Center before it was released. The owl was found dead recently along Interstate 35. (News Tribune file photo)

Snowy owl that charmed Washington and was released in Twin Ports found dead

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WASHINGTON — The snowy owl that charmed the nation’s capital earlier this year when it perched itself in downtown Washington, worried those fans when it was hit by a bus a few days later, and then was released into the wild in the Twin Ports, has died.

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The University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center in St. Paul, to which the owl was sent to after the D.C. bus accident, said Friday that the snowy owl’s body had been found on the shoulder of a Minnesota highway not far from where it had been released in April.

Though the cause of death is uncertain, it probably was hit by a vehicle, according to the Raptor Center, which specializes in the medical care, rehabilitation and conservation of owls.

“It is always difficult when we receive news such as this,” it said in a statement. “Urban landscape challenges such as buses, methane burners and roadways can prove hazardous to all types of wildlife, owls included.”

The snowy owl first gained widespread media attention when it perched outside the Washington Post’s headquarters in January.

After the bus accident, the owl was rescued by D.C. police and eventually taken to City Wildlife, a rehabilitation center for wild animals.

In March, it was sent to the Raptor Center, where its damaged wing feathers were replaced in a special procedure.

The owl was released back into the wild April 19 near Hallett Dock No. 8 in Superior, after meeting the center’s physical benchmarks.

The raptor was part of an irruption of snowy owls last winter across the eastern United States. The term irruption is used by birders to describe the phenomenon that occurs when large numbers of a species appear in a place where they aren’t usually seen.

Snowy owls normally remain in the Arctic, where they enjoy a steady diet of lemmings. If a lemming shortage forces them farther south, they dine on mice and voles. But even given the irruption, seeing a snowy in the urban wilds of the nation’s capital was unusual, Raptor Center officials said in April.

Raptor Center officials told MPR News on Friday that the owl was found dead along Interstate 35. The bird’s body was “found in good condition, indicating the owl was successfully hunting” after it was released, the center said. It was identified by a band placed on one of its legs before it was released.

The News Tribune contributed to this report.

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