It’s Snowing Owls In Massachusetts!!!

Snowy Owls that is! If you have never seen a Snowy Owl, or even if you have, this winter might be a good time to get out your binoculars, spotting scope or camera and head out to view this majestic Arctic bird!

In mid November, Project SNOWstorm predicted that this year could be an irruptive year for Snowy Owls in much of the United States. Project SNOWstorm is a Snowy Owl tracking organization that began tracking the owls in 2013 after that year became one of the most impressive irruption years on record, An irruption is an invasion or influx of a species into areas they are not commonly found. Snowy Owls live year round and breed in the Arctic. But, in 2013 the birds started showing up in record numbers in the lower 48 states. Every year the continental U.S. is visited by Snowy Owls, but to give you some idea of how massive their irruption was…Pennsylvania reported 400 owls in the state which in a typical winter may see about 10! If you are thinking, WOW,” wait for this…one Snowy Owl even made it as far south as Northern Florida…but wait…two and possibly three Snowy Owls were spotted in Bermuda! 

Researchers used to think Snowy’s ventured south in the winter due to lack of food. Snowy Owls primary food in the Arctic is a small rodent called a Lemming. So were Lemmings in short supply in 2013 and other irruption years? No! Irruption years have proven to be boom years for Lemmings! And, when there is an abundance of Lemmings, breeding Snowy Owls produce more eggs and more young! According to Project SNOWstorm, in a in a typical breeding season a Snowy Owl nest may have three to four eggs, but in 2013 nests held eight or nine eggs! 

Now there were a lot of fledged Snowy Owls, fattened up on a steady diet of Lemmings…so what happened next? Well, the majority of Owls that came south in 2013 were juveniles, so after a successful breeding season, the young Owls headed south in search of more food. How do we know they were juveniles? First year owls are more heavily streaked with brown or black markings than adults. 

So why does Project SNOWstorm think we’re in for another Snowy Owl irruption? Owls are showing up in numbers that mimic 2013, but they are showing up even earlier in the season! 

Here in Massachusetts we are seeing almost daily reports of Snowy Owls being spotted at Plum Island, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and Crane Beach . In mid November there was a report of a Snowy Owl seen on Bayswater Street in Boston! There have also been many reports of sightings around the Quabbin Reservoir. As December arrives we have seen reports of Snowy Owls being seen as far west in the state as Hadley and as far east as Plymouth Beach, Duxbury Beach, Dennis, Eastham, Norton Point Beach on Martha’s Vineyard and the Coskata Marsh on Nantucket! 

It’s seems that Snowy Owls are popping up everywhere! Want to venture out and see a Snowy? Come by the store and we’ll tell you where they have most recently been spotted. You could also try the eBird site http://ebird.org/content/ebird/ (it’s where we get our up to the day reports). For more information about Project SNOWstorm http://www.projectsnowstorm.org/ 

The photo you see was taken by our sales associate Laurene in 2013. She spotted three Snowy Owls in one day on a visit to Salisbury Beach and Plum Island.