Alison Morrow, KING 5 News8:04 p.m. PST January 11, 2016
Bird enthusiasts are furious about the death of a rare, protected owl over the weekend. Now the Colville Tribe is investigating.
"It was a superb bird, a very beautiful bird," Jon Houghton remembered.
Houghton's seen a lot of birds in 70 years. Last week, he learned a unique Northern Hawk Owl was spotted in Okanagan County. Bird watchers sounded the call and a migration of people flocked to see it.
For Houghton, it was worth the four-hour drive, but he'd heard from others that the landowner was unhappy about the attention. Though bird watchers stayed on a public road, the bird was on private property. An online comment describes a sign warning "no photographs."
Then Saturday, a couple who saw the bird alive heard a gunshot after driving away, then returned to see the owl hanging by one foot. Another bird watcher showed up Sunday, unaware the owl was dead, and took a picture.
"This bird appears to have been shot. His talons were still hanging onto the branch," Houghton described. "The bird was inverted with its wings hanging down - its head hanging down."
Northern Hawk Owls are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Act. They're also hardly ever seen outside Canada and Alaska.
"Even the most common owls are rare and difficult to find. This is one of the rarest owls," explained author Paul Bannick.
Bannick chose the Northern Hawk Owl for one of his book covers. He's spent years living among them, taking their pictures and studying their behavior.