Rare Mass Migration of Snowy Owls


Rare Mass Migration of Snowy Owls
Photo: Reuters

There have been a rising number of snowy owls winging their way into the lower forty-eight states from the Artic this winter.  These snowy oils stand two feet tall with a wing span of five feet.  Thousands of these owls have been spotted coast to coast.  They have been spotted in Montana roosting on roof tops, in Idaho feeding in the farmlands, in Massachusetts soaring over the shorelines, and in Missouri gliding over the golf courses.

Each winter a number of them do fly south from their breeding grounds in the Artic but is very unusual for them to venture so far away and in such a large mass migration of thousands.  It is known as irruptions when they do periodic southern migration.  This has been the most significant wildlife event in many decades.  

It is possible that the reason the much younger male owls came so much farther south than is normal is that there is a greater competition for food in the Artic because of the booming bird population.  Any research done on the snowy owls is scarce because of the extreme conditions and remoteness of their terrain, which includes Scandinavia and northern Russia.  

Unfortunately there has been a darker side to this migration.  At some of the sites where they have been seen, there have been accounts of emaciated owls.  In Wisconsin, a food starved snowy owl dropped dead in a farmer’s field and an owl at a Hawaiian airport in November had to be shot and was killed to avoid any collisions with the planes landing and taking off.  The diet of snowy owls is ninety percent lemmings, which is a rodent.  They will also eat other animals from geese to voles.  

Why the snowy owls have migrated so far south still remains a mystery.