Thursday, January 21, 2016

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owls Gather Along East Coast 

Snowy Owl
In winter we are sometimes blessed with the incursion of Snowy Owls.  This has been one of those winters.  There have been reports of many sightings of Snowy Owls along our east coast with reports from Miscou to Cape Tormentine.  They are sometimes seen inland as well but not as often as along the coast.

Why is that?  The Snowy Owl likes open habitat near water.  That is what they find along the east coast.  They feed on sea ducks, rodents, and other birds.  They perch on fence posts, buildings and other solid areas, watching for movement of possible prey.  They then fly down and snatch the unsuspecting rodent or they pluck the duck off the water.  They do not perch in trees.  

Snowy Owl
The Snowy Owl is a large bird, 50 to 68 cm long (20 to 27 in) and with a wingspan of 137 to 167 cm (54 to 66 in).  It weighs about 1814 g (64 oz).  Many people believe that the darker, heavily marked birds are juveniles but research shows that that is not true.  It is unreliable to try to age or sex these birds by plumage.  Many birds come south year after year and some are actually older birds.

Snowy Owls often choose airports for their winter habitat.  That is because airports are open and similar to their habitat in the north.  That can be dangerous for collisions with aircraft.  These birds are usually trapped and successfully relocated.  

Snowy Owls appear reasonably tame because they are not accustomed to humans in the far north.  They are diurnal (they hunt during the day) and thus are easily seen and approached by humans.  Approaching closer than 50 metres is stressful for the birds.  We need to be ethical birders and protect them by educating people to stay well back and watch only from a distance.  Photographers especially need to keep this in mind! 

Snowy Owl
Snow Owls breed in the summer in our far north, Baffin Island and the other islands farther north.  Their distribution, however, is circumpolar.  In the north they feed on lemmings and voles.  They nest on the ground and lay 3 to 11 white eggs.  In years of high rodent populations, nesting is more successful.

Snowy owls are one of our many beautiful birds.

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