Kindling Neighborly Connections between People and Nature.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Arctic Wild Neighbors: Snowy owl

A snowy owl that showed up in a Bradford County field in January 2017.
For many the snowy owl may be the quintessential bird that comes to mind when thinking about the arctic. This is fitting, as the snowy owl is an arctic breeder whose diet is sustained almost exclusively on lemmings when and where they are readily available. The snowy owl is also known to eat other mammals and birds.

Every year there are snowy owls that show up in the United States. However, some years it's just one or two rare sightings in Pennsylvania, and some years a dozen or more are reported in the keystone state. They are an irruptive species which means that snowy owls make irregular pushes south of Canada in response to increases in population and limited food availability.

The following is my memory of my first snowy owl sighting in December 2013 at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, PA:

Wind whipped snow covers sand dunes while white-tipped waves crash upon the icy shore. Fifteen degrees feels like twenty below while exposed to the elements at Gull Point. Not to worry. A flurry of snow buntings enliven this lake-shore tundrascape and my heart as well; Dancing over frozen dunes with the enthusiasm of the Energizer bunny, the winged mass of white, brown, and black moves left then right then magically vanishes in plain sight in the thick of low-growing browned for the winter vegetation. A few more steps and there I stand, totally mesmerized by the bold yellow eyes of a snowy owl at rest. Snow white complexion, breast and wings barred brown, I'm in the presence of a wild neighbor whose beauty is beyond words. There is a wisdom in that gaze that is mysterious and wild. The snowy owl is of the arctic tundra, and through her confident stare the tundra visits me.

 The photo in this post is of a snowy owl that was seen in Bradford County, PA in 2017. One was reported in Tioga county, PA last year. This is the time of year when they are likely to show up, so keep a lookout for them in open fields and adjacent to large bodies of water.

If you do locate a snowy owl, please take care to be respectful of this remarkable wild neighbor by giving them plenty of space. I recommend maintaining a buffer of about 50 yards so as not to over-stress the bird.

To learn more interesting facts about the snowy owl, click this link.

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