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Snowy Owl Returns To Maryland

Article Date: 2009-03-01   Source:   Comments: 1

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 lab.

"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 unusual.

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 said.

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 feathered feet.

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."

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.

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On 2014-04-11, from Chesapeake city wrote: "4/11/14 Today I spotted a big white owl about a half hour before sunset. It was spotted in Chesapeake City, md on top of a telephone pole near the corner of Cayotes corner rd and telegraph rd."

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