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Snowy Owl Alert

by Bryan on November 29th, 2011

If you live in the north, you’re probably not too far from a Snowy Owl right now. An arctic invasion has reached northern states. And with the snow all gone, white owls should stand out in the barren hinterlands. Look for them in open habitat: farm fields, airports, oceanside dunes and islands, for example, and expect them to sit slightly higher than grade, on fence posts, hay bales, farm buildings and as high as utility poles. I’ve even seen one atop a lamp post in a shopping center.

Conventional wisdom holds that Snowy Owls, particularly the young birds, move south when lemming populations crash. Food supply does motiviate birds (as it does people). But some new field work, ably reported by my pal and colleague Kent McFarland, suggests that Snowy Owls can show up in the US when food supplies to the north are actually abundant. Lots of food may mean that lots of owls, particularly young owls, survive until winter, at which point the adults chase them from arctic feeding areas to fend for themselves. Those young birds often land in northern states.

I’ve included a few maps here – from eBird – with Snowy Owl sightings during November. Note how “coastal” their distribution seems (or at least that many are being discovered on shorelines, where birders tend to go). So here in Vermont, Lake Champlain is certainly in play. Here’s an interactive eBird map with Snowy sightings. (When you view this map click the “Show Points Sooner” box on the right for a better view of sites.) It’s a safe assumption that many more Snowy Owls are yet to be found. Post your discoveries in the comments section below. Happy hunting!

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From → Birds, Birdwatching

  1. Not just coastal areas, but also inland. Today one showed up in Brattleboro, VT. It sat in the middle of a cornfield at first but later moved to a perch on a downed tree in the West River. See my blog for photos.

  2. RUth permalink

    Bryan, wow, these are just getting better and better

  3. Any idea why the sightings are mostly made in coastal locations ? Is it simply that coastal regions are more popular destinations for birdwatchers or is there something diet related ?


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