The winter of 2013 – 14 will be remembered for being one of the most spectacular migrations of snowy owls in history. It may be a lifetime opportunity for many to experience this iconic bird. By January 6, there had been reports of Snowy owls from at least 33 counties, some for the first time in history. A team of ornithologists are working to document and study this phenomenon: a collaboration of researchers from Project Owlnet and Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art are working with the PA Game Commission, eBird, and others. This invasion is probably due to high numbers of snowy owl fledglings produced in nests in northern Canada and Greenland, where they react well to the abundance of rodents. However, snowy owl migration is poorly studied so we can learn a lot from this event.
Snowy owls have been observed particularly in open habitats like fields, shorelines, roadsides, and airports. More are being reported in counties with wide open spaces, but it is suspected that others may be overlooked for lack of observers. Most perch on high points in open fields, shores, ice, or along roadsides. Check out video of one that stopped near Game Commission headquarters on the agency's Facebook page.
Snowy owls do not see many people so they can appear tame or naïve. However, do not take this as an invitation to get very close because it can cause them to waste precious time and energy escaping your advances rather than hunting and resting during the cold weather when they need a lot of energy.
How you can help:
We urge you to submit snowy owl sightings to firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Project SNOWstorm website – a centralized place for people to contribute their information and photos. Entries into PA eBird also are welcome. Photographs, especially of owls with spread wings and tails, are needed to help determine the sex and age of the birds. The date, as well as explicit location information is important, including latitude/longitude coordinates, street address, road name, and township.
For an overall view of the early stages of the snowy owl flight, check out the December 11 story on eBird, which includes range maps and comparison with the last big flight. And for more information on the phenomena enjoy this eBird story, Snowy Owls for Christmas.