Meet: Snowy Owl
Yet another bird who migrates south from the snowy north to spend winters here in the upper Midwest. But what a bird! This predator is immediately recognizable and very striking. Most people think of them as pure white but they are often speckled with brown and black bars or spots. They can weight between 3 and 5 lbs, when fully grown and hunt mice, voles, lemmings and other birds. Interestingly, Snowy Owl often hunt during the day as opposed to many other northern owls who hunt at night.
These arctic birds spend their summer rearing young on the tundra, building their nests on the ground. To the delight of many, they travel south in the winter to hunt open fields along waterways in the the winter. Seeing a Snowy Owl is truly a wonderous experience as they are not only very particular in their habitats, vary widely in migration patterns, but also are pretty rare. Due to habitat loss and climate change, these majestic predators are estimated to be comprised of only 28,000 breeding pairs and number about 100,000 total birds.
Many birders will flock to see them in the wild. With the advent of the internet, one bird spotted in an area can draw hundreds of curious people and birders, disturbing the animal and impacting it's ability to hunt successfully. Many areas have asked people to share sightings in only the most general way. For example, "In southwestern Michigan". If you are lucky enough to see one or know where they spend their winters, not sharing that specific information is the best thing you can do to help them make it through the winter and return to their northern breeding grounds next year. We've been lucky enough to enjoy viewing a few of these stunning creatures near us but in the past year or two, our favorite viewing spots have been crowded with cars, photographers and birders so we've decided to stop visiting them ourselves. We still stumble across one or two a year in the north on a backroad though and it is always a pleasure to see them.