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Tickets please! Bird stowaway travels on Trans-Siberian

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14 November 2014


The Great Grey Owl is the world’s largest species of owl, found mainly in Russia and the United States. Picture: Arne List

It is one of the most famous rail lines in the world, carrying passengers and cargo on an epic 5,700 mile journey through the wilderness of Russia. But now the iconic Trans-Siberian Railway has ferried an unusual stowaway across the vast expanse of the country, in the form of a giant owl.

Workers offloading cargo in Moscow discovered a Great Grey Owl - which stands 50cm tall and has an enormous two-metre wing span - inside, having hitched a lift all the way from Siberia.

Believed to have been injured during an accident, the male bird managed to sneak on board the train for the two-week journey east-to-west across Russia. Named after the great explorer Christopher Columbus, and thought to be between two and three years old, it is being given emergency treatment at a specialist bird hospital in Russia.

Vladimir Romanov, director of the Green Parrot bird hospital and orphanage, told The Siberian Times: 'It was a bit of a shock for both the workers and the owl to see each other. The bird tried to escape, but couldn’t fly because of serious trauma and was too weak after days without food.

'The workers managed to throw a bag over its head and then delivered it to us'.

Giant Great Grey Owl hitches a lift on epic 5,700 miles journey to Moscow after injuring itself hunting Giant Great Grey Owl hitches a lift on epic 5,700 miles journey to Moscow after injuring itself hunting

Giant Great Grey Owl hitches a lift on epic 5,700 miles journey to Moscow after injuring itself hunting

'I think it will take Columbus two to three months to fully recover'. Pictures: Vladimir Romanov

It is not known where the owl jumped on board but its natural habitat is in Siberia and the north of Russia. When the cargo train arrived in Moscow, workers from the Domodedovo mechanical factory found it sitting on a pile of metal.

The owl, often known as the 'Phantom of the North', was found to have three broken bones, most likely as a result of an accident while hunting prey.

Mr Romanov said: 'It could have got inside the cargo train carriage during loading when it was open, or through a hole in the roof. Either way the bird has been travelling for at least ten days, but more likely two weeks'.

The Great Grey Owl is the world’s largest species of owl and is found in many parts of the northern hemisphere, but mainly in Russia and the United States.

Adults have large rounded heads with a grey face and yellow eyes, and the females are larger than the males. The injured bird is in the hospital’s intensive care, where it is being fed and given oxygen with other medication being used to raise its body temperature.

Surgery will then be carried out to mend the bird’s broken wings and bones.

Mr Romanov said: 'The main task is make sure it gains weight. We had to force-feed him at the start, though recently he began to eat little by little by himself.

'It will take at least two weeks for Columbus to gain weight and get into a normal shape. After this we will perform the surgery. Birds are very sensitive to excess weight, they begin to 'limp' when flying. I think it will take Columbus two to three months to fully recover.

'We plan to release him into the wild next spring'. 

The owl will likely be released in the Leningrad region, where there is a greater possibility of him finding a mate nearby.

Mr Romanov added: 'We will work together with ornithologists and with staff from local nature reserves, because we need to control the bird at first. Our hospital has great experience in releasing birds into the wild, but this is the first time that we had a Great Grey Owl'. 

The Trans-Siberian Railway was built between 1891 and 1916, under the supervision of Russian government ministers appointed directly by Tsar Alexander III.

At 5,772 miles, it is the longest railway line in the world, with connections into China, North Korea and Mongolia. It carries cargo as well as passengers, with the most famous service being the Trans-Siberian Express which is attracting growing numbers of overseas visitors each year.

Comments (4)

This story has the joy and beauty of legends! The great grey owl holds such majestic beauty with its yellow eyes and wing span, so combined with this breathtaking and legendary train journey the story really is inspirational and uplifting!
Carmen, Ireland
29/11/2014 06:40
Owl and other night birds are very important for the balance in ecosystem because they eat many mouses and other rodents.People shouldn't be afraid about them and protect them for the young generation.
Thanks Columbus !
Jocelyne, FRANCE
22/11/2014 13:36
Not only it this bird beautiful, but also intelligent to know where to find help and hitching a lift.

What a lovely creation and hopefully he will recover soon, especially with the help of the workers and bird hospital and not to mention all the loving care he will get.

Many thanks and blessings to you all.

Valentyna, Scotland
Valentyna, Perth, Scotland
21/11/2014 14:24
Great Grey Owl is a beautiful bird. Thanks to workers and bird hospital to care with him. C'est une belle histoire et Columbus est un le bon nom ¨v¨
Jocelyne, FRANCE
16/11/2014 15:39

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