Scott Diehl releases a snowy owl back into the wild north of Port Washington. Diehl is the wildlife rehabilitation center director at Wisconsin Humane Society. The injured bird was found in downtown Milwaukee in November. Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Iglaak, the Inuit word for "traveler" or "stranger," is what the Wisconsin Humane Society named the regal-eyed snowy owl it rescued from a downtown Milwaukee parking lot in late November.
Iglaak was 1,000 miles from his home above the Arctic Circle, and he was all the worse for the wear. He was emaciated, dehydrated, exhausted, parasite-infected and had a broken toe.
Even in his hobbled state, Iglaak was something to behold.
About 2 feet tall, with a wingspan of about 3 feet, Iglaak was robed from head to toe with an ermine-like plumage of white spotted with dashes of black and gray.
A sharply hooked beak poked out from his bullet-shaped head, which was dominated by eyes like you have got to see to believe. They're as round as lollipops, with irises that are the blazing kind of gold that you'd normally find in evening campfires and illuminated manuscripts.
The bird doesn't move his eyes. Rather, he holds you in an unsettling stare, like a monarch you have failed to amuse. Because his head is mounted on some sort of swivel device, he is able to abruptly turn his back on you without actually turning his back.
Iglaak was nursed back to health at the society's Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, where he made it clear he strongly preferred farm-raised quail over farm-raised mice.
The center is located on Wisconsin Ave., not far from the heart of downtown, and it treats about 5,000 injured animals a year, according to the society's spokeswoman, Angela Speed.
"The human heart will not just walk away from an injured animal," Speed said.
"For all the acts of animal abuse we see in the community, we see acts of kindness tenfold," she said.
"The acts of kindness we see far outweigh the acts of cruelty."
On a bright and appropriately frigid day, Iglaak was released back to the wild.
An informal ceremony was held between the parking lot and a pond at the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve near Port Washington. Several dozen people gathered for the occasion.
Scott Diehl, the center's wildlife director, pulled on a thick pair of leather gauntlets and disappeared into the center's van. He was in the van for several minutes. There was some bumping and thrashing and people began to wonder if maybe the owl would emerge carrying Diehl.
Then out popped Diehl with Iglaak, the bird like an ornery toddler, tucked between his arms and chest.
Diehl allowed the humans a few minutes of sweet astonishment, then turned east toward Lake Michigan and threw the bird into the air.
Iglaak unfolded his wings, pumped them a few times and was gone.
"Always a little bit of a worry," Diehl said. "It's like sending a kid off to college."
Then, looking east, he said: "I hope you make good decisions from here on out."
Join us in telling the stories of our better angels, of the kindness, compassion and decency that brighten our community. Call or text Crocker Stephenson at 414.858-6181. Or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.