Look for the mini-snowmen

Posted February 22nd, 2012 by kcorliss. Comments Off on Look for the mini-snowmen.

If you haven’t seen a snowy owl this winter somewhere in the continental U.S. you haven’t been looking. The irruption of these huge Arctic owls into the lower 48 has made news reports for at least a few months and the birds continue to impress with incursions into areas where snowys are normally quite rare. Today I received the Winter 2012 issue of BirdScope, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s newsletter and sure enough, there was yet another brief article describing the impressive showing of snowy owls across the country this winter.

Making this piece somewhat different than most was the explanation for the phenomenon. You see, most articles I’ve seen this winter try and make the claim the birds are starving, that a lack of lemmings up north has forced them down into less productive feeding areas, and that the birds are in trouble. Truth be told we are not 100% sure why such irruptions take place but this story talks about the fact that when lemmings are “plentiful, the owls can raise double or triple their normal number of chicks. Once autumn arrives, that horde of hungry youngsters has no choice but to fan out and head far south of the species’ normal range.” This makes much better sense to me.

Here in North Dakota, the birds are annual winter visitors and just the numbers vary from year to year. Most this year indeed appear to be immature birds. But last weekend I happened upon a nice adult male (hardly a dark  spot noticeable whatsoever) in the middle of a field. Folks infrequently ask me how to find snowy owls. I tell them, look for a piece of snow that doesn’t belong. In other words, just look for a mini-snowman out in the middle of a field. Such as this one…

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