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Snowy Owls Spottings Rise in New York

Article Date: 2009-01-27   Source:   Comments: 0

By Yancey Roy

Albany, New York, U.S.A. - Across New York, Snowy Owl sightings are on the rise this winter. From Buffalo to Long Island, from a grassy field in Greene County to the roof of the State Capitol in Albany, New Yorkers are spotting what appears to be an increase in the number of Snowy Owls traveling south from their Arctic breeding grounds, said John Ozard, a biologist who specializes in bird species at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

"Every winter, New York receives some influx of Snowy Owls. But this year, anecdotally, there seems to be more of these birds around than usual," Ozard said. "And they arrived a bit earlier than normal."

The likely cause is not what some might think, Ozard explained. While some might guess that the Snowy Owls (Bubo Scandiacus) are flying south because of a shortage of food (primarily lemmings) in the Arctic, the more probable reason is that the birds have had a very productive breeding season and the younger owls - faced with heavy competition for food - are crowded out of their home base.

"This is a good sign for the owl," Ozard said. "If food were scarce, if there were no lemmings in the Arctic, the birds would react by not raising any young. Snowy Owls are opportunistic breeders. In good times, a single breeding pair can hatch and raise a dozen offspring in a year. When there are excess birds, the young - especially the males - are sort of kicked out of their territory and head south."

This is not first New York winter with a high number of Snowy Owl sightings. Records show such winters occurred sporadically through the 20th Century.

Ozard cautioned that there is no extensive banding of Snowy Owls and, therefore, it's almost impossible to determine exactly where these "local owls" originated. The bird typically breeds in the Arctic, in the far north of Canada, Greenland and Norway. The Cornell University Ornithology Lab describes it as "a nomadic species and often unpredictable migrant." It differs from other owls in being diurnal - a daylight hunter - rather than nocturnal.

News accounts and bird-watching blogs have detailed a number of Snowy Owl sightings since mid-fall. One roosted for several days at the State Capitol. Others have been reported in fields, on buildings and on telephone poles in a number of communities.

The birds will likely stay in the region through late March or early April, depending on weather, while feeding on rodents and small birds. The owls generally are tolerant of people but onlookers shouldn't approach too closely so as to avoid stressing the birds. Birdwatchers occasionally might spot crows "mobbing" a Snowy Owl trespassing on their turf - a behavior tactic crows use to shoo predatory birds.

For more information, the New York State Ornithological Association's website has a link to rare bird alerts throughout the state:

Disclaimer: This article has been reproduced from and placed here for comment. is not responsible for the accuracy of any information in this article, and does not necessarily agree with the author's opinions.

Related Articles:
2009-02-07 - Snowy owls swoop southward by Mary Esch - Albany, New York, U.S.A.
2009-01-27 - Snowy owls swoop southward, delight birders by Mary Esch - Albany, New York, U.S.A.

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