This winter will be an irruption year for snowy owls. An irruption is a large influx of an animal that normally may not be in the area. Snowy Owls migrate south from the Arctic Tundra to spend the winter here. Already there have been sightings of them in our area around the lake shore.
Snowy owls are u ique in the fact that they are diurnal, or active during the day and not night like most owls. They spend a majority of the day perched in open areas looking for prey. Rodents are the most common food item for snowy owls, but they are also known to hunt birds. The female snowy owl tends to have patterned feathers, giving her a striped or salt and pepper look while the male tends to be more white in color.
Because of their beauty and the fact they are out during the day, snowy owls are very popular with photographers. It is important to remember that when the snowy owls arrive, they have had a long migration and are often malnourished and weak. They need to hunt and eat to build up their energy. If disturbed from where they are roosting, the snowy owl must fly to a new location, using precious calories and resources that may already be scarce. Being disturbed throughout the day can cause undue stress to the already stressed animal.
Make sure when observing snowy owls to keep a safe distance, and not disturb them. When left alone, the behaviors they exhibit can be truly remarkable! You may see two owls fighting over the same prey item, or even an owl and peregrine falcon fighting over territory. When going to see these animals, plan on spending some time so you can observe their behaviors without negatively impacting their ability to survive and thrive during the winter ahead.
Photographs courtesy of Laurie Dirkx. http://www.lauriedirkx.com