'Extremely obese' owl released back into the wild after being too fat to fly

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By Isobel van Hagen  with NBC News World News
'Extremely obese' owl released back into the wild after being too fat to fly

LONDON — Even birds of prey may have trouble losing those post-holiday pounds.

A British wildlife charity has said that an owl that was found in a ditch in early January and initially thought to have been injured turned out to be "simply extremely obese."

The Suffolk Owl Sanctuaryin eastern England told NBC News on Thursday that the sopping wet "little owl" (Athene noctua) was brought in by a member of the public in early January. When staff examined and weighed the bird, she was "a rather chunky" 245 grams, according to the group's social media.

This is roughly a third heavier than a large healthy female little owl. The extra weight meant she was unable to fly properly due to the fatty deposits.

As it is unusual for wild birds to be in this condition, the sanctuary's falconers decided to monitor her for a few weeks to see why she had put on weight.

The sanctuary concluded that "natural obesity" was to blame. Due to an unseasonably warm December, the area where the gluttonous owl was found was "crawling with field mice and voles."

"It's been very mild here, and prey species are on a cycle where they increase every four years," head falconer for the charity Rufus Samkin said.

When these two things happened to coincide, "she absolutely gorged herself and got very fat. She had a lovely time, but went too far," he said.

The owl was put on a "strict diet" to slim down to a more "natural weight." They also encouraged her to exercise in the rehabilitation center by feeding her low to the ground.

The owl lost between 20 and 30 grams over two-and-a-half weeks, while staff monitored her food intake.

"The whole thing is quite exceptional, as most birds we see are starving," Samkin said.

The little owl was released back into the wild, "flying gracefully off into the British countryside at a much healthier, and happier weight," according to the group's social media.