(Note: The below is a reprint of a story published Feb. 17, 2012, in Scoop, Chrysler Group's employee blog.)



Maybe she was looking for a warm place to stay for the winter or she heard about job openings for a new third crew.

No one knows for sure, but today a female snowy owl, a rare sight in the lower 48 states, is free to do whatever she wants, wherever she wants as long as it’s not inside one of our assembly plants.

Earlier this year, a 2-foot-tall snowy owl (right) found its way into the Jefferson North Assembly Plant on the lower east side of Detroit. The bird was found living among the pipes, conduit and heating ducts in the ceiling of the plant’s Paint Shop Penthouse.

The bird, it turns out, is part of a large and unusual migration this winter from the Arctic into Canada and the United States. A Reuters’ story last month said the birds have been spotted from coast to coast, “feeding in farmlands in Idaho, roosting on rooftops in Montana, gliding over golf courses in Missouri and soaring over shorelines in Massachusetts.”

Some of the owls fly south from the Arctic each year, but rarely in the large numbers that are being seen this year, the story said. A leading researcher said the migration was likely due to a shortage of lemmings and climate change in the Arctic region. The report said lemmings make up about 90 percent of the diet for the snowy owl — a bird that is protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Second-shift electrician Craig Bell spotted the owl in the Paint Shop at the beginning of the year. This was a remarkable circumstance for a number of reasons, but more so because the white feathers and dark spots on the owl blended right in with the colors and spots of the Paint Shop ceiling. How long she had been in this remote and fairly secluded part of the plant is unknown.

Employees did their best to get the owl to leave. They left a number of windows and doors open to no avail. The bird became such a fixture at the plant that employees began calling her “Jeepers.”

Bob Weatherholt, a pipefitter at Jefferson North, contacted the Michigan Department of Natural Resources when it became clear they could not get the bird to leave on its own accord and there was concern for her safety. State employees, however, said it would take a couple of days for them to get someone over to help capture and remove the bird.

Ray Hartung, another pipefitter at Jefferson North, then called the Creature Conservancy, a private, nonprofit animal rescue and education center in Saline, Mich., about 40 miles from the plant. The conservancy was unable to send anyone, but they contacted a local bird rehabilitator who sent Mark Tomich and Karen Young to rescue the owl. Tomich and Young are licensed to rescue and care for wild animals like Jeepers.

Young (right with Jeepers), a master falconer and volunteer bird rescuer, said she’s captured a number of birds in stores and workplaces, but nothing like a snowy owl in a facility the size of Jefferson North.

It was a Saturday morning in mid-January when they got the call, Young said, and she and Tomich were at the plant a little after lunch. Hartung put her in touch with Tony Ross, a UAW Shop Committeeman, who met them at the plant’s security entrance and drove them around the plant to the Paint Shop.

“We had traps, live rodents, gloves, a carrier and other supplies that we were grateful not to have to lug all the way through the plant,” Young said of the ride around the facility. “He led us back amid the towers of mechanicals, and stopped and pointed up to where she was, staring down at us from a four-foot-diameter duct.”

The good news was that no major work stations were in the area and the plant was empty, Young said. The bad news was that the doors and windows there were too small for the owl to fly through, and there was no way to herd her out of the plant.

Tomich and Young loaded their traps and put them down, but Jeepers didn’t budge.

“Mark and I retreated to wait and see if the traps would tempt her,” Young said. “After about a half hour, she hadn’t moved from her perch nor had she made any moves toward the traps, so Mark and I moved the traps a bit to see if we could entice her to them.”

Finally, an employee came in the area upsetting the bird, and Jeepers started flying around. Tomich then decided to make a homemade net out of some nearby materials. He and Young then began to slowly maneuver the bird back into a corner of the Paint Shop. After more than an hour or so, Jeepers flew onto the top of a fence in area that featured a sign reading, “Danger — High Voltage.”

“Mark and I just looked at each other, both realizing immediately that not only was she likely to be killed if she strayed into the electrical area, but it would probably shut down the plant,” Young said.

Fortunately, Tomich was able to get his homemade net around Jeepers and then grabbed her leg for assurance. Young helped him put her in a cage, and the job finally was done.

Young is convinced Jeepers found food to eat in the plant. She weighed in at 2,300 grams (a little more than 5 pounds), which is pretty healthy for a full-grown female snowy owl. She was seen later by a veterinarian at the Canton (Mich.) Center Animal Hospital the next day for a checkup, and she appeared healthy, albeit a bit upset after her adventure.

Last week, Jeepers was released and her whereabouts today are unknown. A few days later a snowy owl was spotted in the sky not far from Jefferson North, but was it Jeepers? We will never know, of course, unless she ventures back into the plant and takes up her spot in the rafters of the plant’s Paint Shop Penthouse.