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It's Snowing Owls!

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It's Snowing Owls!

A huge flurry of snowy owls has migrated from their northern breeding grounds this year. They’ve been sighted all across southern Canada and as far south as Texas.

Even non-birders are being rustled out of their warm living rooms to take in the rare appearance of large numbers of snowy owls this winter. Normally migrating from their breeding grounds in the high Artic south to Canadian border areas, the National Audubon Society is reporting sightings throughout the US Midwest and as far south as Texas and even Hawaii.

Irregular migration

Ornithologists are reporting that this year is one of the biggest irruption years ever for snowy owls, beautiful raptors that stand two feet tall with five-foot wingspans. An irruption is a dramatic, irregular migration of large numbers of birds to areas where they’re not usually found.

Experts worry about implications

Such an unusual spike in snowy owl sightings is a boon to birders and even tourism, but ornithologists worry about the implications. Most often, irruptions occur when lack of food drives birds to new and more plentiful hunting grounds. This year, however, the snowy owls’ preferred food—lemmings—were in plentiful supply.

Experts believe this unusually plentiful supply of lemmings drove snowy owl reproduction rates higher, leaving overcrowding and competition at the typical wintering spots and driving young owls to new and unusual wintering grounds.

Snowy owls in overall decline

It’s an ironic twist given concerns about overall declines in the numbers of snowy owls. And ornithologists have no idea how this year’s sudden spike in population will fly given the pressures on their food supplies and normal breeding grounds.

Birders beware

Whatever the outcome, the experts remind us to take our binoculars—and our common sense—if we plan to spend a little time in nature to look for snowies.

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