A Maine State Police trooper rescued an injured owl Thursday morning that appeared to have been struck by a vehicle on Interstate 95, but the bird died later in the day after being taken to a bird rehabilitation center for treatment.

The incident is highlighting what the rehabilitation center, Avian Haven, is describing as a worse-than-usual period for owl injuries linked to car accidents.

Trooper Bernard Brunette, previously a police officer in Waterville, was driving north about 7:45 a.m. on the interstate in Palmyra, just north of mile marker 154, when he noticed an owl in the snowbank on the median side, according to information on the Maine State Police Facebook page.

The bird — a young barred owl — apparently was struck by a vehicle and was suffering from exposure. After a brief struggle, Brunette was able to get his jacket over the owl and the bird was secured in his cruiser, police said. The owl was escorted to the Moosehead Trail Trading Post on Route 100 in Palmyra to be put into a box and warmed up.

Avian Haven, of Freedom, took custody of the bird, according to the statement.

“It is believed the owl suffered from a concussion, and though we don’t know the outcome, we’re hoping he makes a full recovery,” the police statement said.

At Avian Haven, the owl was being prepared for an X-ray Thursday morning after having suffered a broken leg, according to Diane Winn, executive director of the nonprofit rehabilitation center. The owl was considered a hatch-year bird, Winn said, meaning the bird hatched this past spring.

State police posted later on Facebook that “we are saddened to hear of the passing of our owl friend.”

Winn said earlier Thursday that the owl was one of three such injured birds Thursday morning, a common pattern lately, with sometimes two or three cases per day, or a total of 60 to 70 cases since October.

“This has been an extreme casualty early winter for barred owls,” Winn said. “They’re all car hits — I don’t know why the car hits are in such large numbers.”

While the numbers are higher than usual, it’s not uncommon for hatch-year birds to be injured by cars this time of year because they’re leaving their parents’ territory for the first time and hunting on their own, according to Winn.

The owls often will hunt for food by roadsides Winn said, because people throw litter from their cars, which attracts mice — prey for the owls.

“This year we started seeing car-hit owls in October — well before the weather was cold,” she said.

Winn advised motorists to be watchful, especially around dusk, as “young owls out hunting may not have their street smarts.”

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