Snowy Owl Returns To Maryland
Article Date: 2009-03-01 Source: http://wbal.com
Maryland, U.S.A. - It's been at least 24 years since the last irruption of snowy owls in Maryland and this year there are at least four on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
The region is lucky to see one snowy owl every four years or so. Bob Ringler,
the editor of Maryland Bird Life, a Maryland Ornithological Society publication, has data on the owl's presence that goes back until at least 1876.
Ringler listed five sightings in Talbot County before this year: one owl at
Bailey's Neck in November 1974, one at Sherwood in November 1993, two at Poplar
Island in 2001 and one at Poplar Island in November 2003. The last irruption
happened in 1949.
"This is probably the first time in Oxford," he said.
The owl showed up Jan. 27 at the Cooperative Oxford Laboratory and has attracted
bird watchers from Virginia, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Delaware and one phone
call from North Carolina, said Carol McCollough, a researcher pathologist at the
"This is the first time (since I came to Maryland in 1985) that there's been
multiple snowy owls in Maryland," David Brinker of the Wildlife and Heritage
Service, Natural Heritage Program said. "This is pretty notable."
"They don't know what we are," Brinker said. "We're just curious things walking
around that are too big for them to eat."
Snowy owls are sensitive to food supply and about every four years that supply
crashes, which forces the birds south for food. Maryland usually gets one snowy
owl in the winters of those irruptive years, and having four in the region is
The birds Brinker has seen in pictures are most likely teenage males that won't
breed this spring. The two on Assateague Island, one on Poplar Island and the
one in Oxford traveled farther than females, which are bigger and can hold
territory better when food is scarce.
"They're essentially teenagers doing what college-aged kids do - they wander
around," Brinker said.
And the owl has wandered about Oxford, with sightings at Bachelor's Point, near
Pier Street, by the Community Center and around the lab.
"He's quite loyal to the area, but not to any particular perch," McCollough
The owls are used to open habitats, water and coastal areas and like to eat
lemmings in the tundra, but will eat mammals, fish, birds and eggs.
The winter's first snowy owl came to Assateague about Nov. 10, then one came to
Poplar Island, then a second to Assateague right before Christmas, then the one
in Oxford. In March, the birds will head back north as the weather warms up and
the lengthening days cue them to head home.
A contender for the largest owl, the birds have wing spans of four to five feet,
an average weight of four pounds and are almost two feet long. Only the great
gray owl has a larger wingspan. The birds will aggressively defend territory and
eggs and have talons that reach about one and a half inches long on their
People interested in seeing the snowy owl at the lab, a federal facility, should
call McCollough at 410-226-5193 before coming. Brinker reminded owl-seekers to
respect private property and use common sense.
"Hopefully the owl doesn't get too popular," he said.
The nomadic birds have wandered to airports and urban areas and have traveled as
far as from Alaska to Siberia, Brinker said. But they probably won't wander back
this way for another four years.
"I can say we won't see them like this in Maryland for a number of cycles," he
said. "We might see one in four years, but it will take a few cycles until we
get this kind of concentration again."
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