A wintry delight has found its way to Massachusetts by flight this winter. No, Santa’s sleigh has not arrived early and no, a big superstar has not landed at Logan Airport (that we know of). An abundance of Snowy Owls have migrated to Massachusetts and surrounding states, and this winter is already shaping up to have the largest movement of Snowy Owls to the eastern United States in decades.
The Snowy Owl stands approximately two feet tall and weighs an average of about four pounds. It is the largest owl in North America with a wingspan of up to five feet. Females are generally larger than males. Both males and females are white in appearance to blend in with their surroundings. They usually breed and reside farther north, toward the Arctic tundra in places like Alaska, Greenland and Russia. Snowy Owls primarily feed on lemmings, small rodents that live in or near the Arctic. The abundance of Snowy Owls in general is probably due to a high number of lemmings during the owls’ last breeding season.
So why has the Snowy Owl moved southward and into the New England area? It could be because the availability of lemmings has decreased elsewhere since the Snowy Owl population boomed and there isn’t enough food to go around. Most Snowy Owls will land along the coast where the habitat is tundra-like due to the dunes and large grasslands. Norman Smith of The Massachusetts Audubon Society has already trapped and safely relocated more than 20 owls from Logan Airport this year.
While we all dream of having our own Hedwig from Harry Potter as our companion, and to deliver our mail, it is important to remember that they can become stressed if flushed repeatedly by bird watchers. So welcome these animals to the Bay State by observing them from an appropriate distance; if they start to move around or look agitated, you are too close. One of the best places to look for Snowy Owls is on the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and Salisbury Beach State Reservation.
If you would like to learn more about the Mass Audubon’s Snowy Owl project, you can follow this link: http://www.massaudubon.org/get-outdoors/wildlife-sanctuaries/blue-hills/snowy-owl-project
This is the third year in a row Snowy Owls have migrated south. While fascinating, this raises a lot of questions about conditions of their homeland in the Arctic.