Snowy owl shot at Oshkosh airport

Wittman Regional Airport runway in Oshkosh, December 1, 2017 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

OSHKOSH (WLUK) -- The shooting of a snowy owl at the Oshkosh airport is raising concerns about why the bird was killed.

The Wittman Regional Airport director says it was a matter of safety.

But advocates for birds say the situation could have been handled better.

It's been three days since a snowy owl was shot and killed at Wittman Regional Airport, but Winnebago Audubon Society President Janet Wissink says she is still upset.

"It's emotional, you know. Bird lovers love snowy owls," said Janet Wissink, Winnebago Audubon Society President.

The big white bird was shot on Tuesday. Airport Director Peter Moll says a pilot spotted the bird in the grass less than 50 feet off the east-west runway.

"The owl did not want to move," said Peter Moll, Wittman Regional Airport Director.

Moll says the maintenance crew often uses a cap gun to scare birds but the truck didn't have one. They did have a shotgun.

"We did try several warning shots into the air, not near it, to maybe scare it, tried the horn on the truck too, tried that. It just wouldn't move. It's not our first choice, we always want to do the best thing to get any animal, or any bird off the airport first without having to kill it. Unfortunately because the safety issues, we had to do it this way," said Moll.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issues airports permits to shoot animals which are deemed a safety hazard. The snowy owl is on the list.

"It's kind of a last-step thing to lethally remove a bird. Non-lethal techniques are tried, and if those aren't effective, then some lethal take may be required for safety purposes," said Tom Cooper, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Program Chief.

But Janet Wissink still wonders why. She says local bird groups could trap problem owls and relocated them elsewhere.

"Maybe we can work together to help remedy that. If we have certain people available," she said.

"We'll reach out to those organizations that have offered training and definitely talk with them about what they can do to help us," said Moll.

Moll says in his 12 years on the job, this is the first time a snowy owl has been shot at the airport.

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