BETHEL — It took a few days, but state wildlife biologists on Sunday captured a barred owl that had been decapitating chickens inside a Bethel barn and flying off with their heads.

Wildlife biologist Chuck Hulsey said the owl was taken on Monday to Avian Haven, a wildlife rehabilitator in Freedom.

“It was probably under a lot of stress and is going to rehab, which won’t hurt it,” Hulsey said Tuesday.

He said the owl was killing about one chicken a day at a Bethel barn when he was notified of the situation.

“It was reported as a northern hawk owl, which is rare for here,” Hulsey said. “They’re a Canadian, southern Arctic Circle bird. Like snowy owls, they show up every now and then because there’s a lack of food up north and they start pushing south.”

Wildlife biologist Judy Camuso in Gray told Hulsey that Maine has one or two sightings a year of northern hawk owls.

Despite the report, Camuso and Hulsey said they believed the chicken “serial killer” was a barred owl.

Owls are having a tough time finding food because of deep snow and Saturday night’s rain that froze atop the snow didn’t help, Camuso said Tuesday.

“Owls don’t have very good luck getting at their prey right now when there’s such a deep snowpack, and then you combine it with the rain we got that created a little ice pack on top of it, that makes it even harder for them,” she said.

She said many animals that owls eat — such as red squirrels and voles — live under the snow.

“That’s why many owls, particularly barred owls as they’re so common, are being taken to wildlife rehabbers now,” she said. “They end up hunting along roadsides and tend to get hit by cars.”

They might also kill chickens, Camuso said. “It’s not a normal situation.”

“Chickens are too large for a barred owl to carry off, “so it just chews the head off and leaves with the head; not a whole lot of nutrition,” Hulsey said.

“Not really that great for the farmer, (either),” Camuso said. “Owls will often eat the head of an animal first. There are some nutrients in the brain that they like, like minerals in particular. Usually, owls and weasels are kind of notorious for eating heads.”

She said it was very unusual, however, for an owl to enter a barn to prey on chickens.

“I was very surprised to see an owl — particularly a barred owl — going into a building like that, so it was definitely getting pretty close to starving to come inside a building,” she said.

“It’s not surprising, given the amount of snow that we’ve had, but it was pretty well on its last legs and doing everything it could to survive,” she said.

“The owner of the chickens was very sympathetic towards the owl, and so we went over there to see if we could catch it with a mist net and eventually did,” Hulsey said.

But not before it had killed five or six chickens.

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