Chesterton Tribune

Snowy Owls moving south look for them here at local beaches

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Ask any Hoosier birder: It’s an incursion year.

Snowy Owls originating from the Arctic tundra are migrating south this winter to the Great Lakes and Midwest Plains states and have been seen in Northwest Indiana at Miller Beach in Lake County, at the Port of Indiana in Porter County, and at Washington Park Beach in Michigan City.

According to migratory bird biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), this rare southerly migration of the Snowy Owl may be the result of a decline in its forage base and a productive breeding season. The migration began this October and the birds are expected to remain in portions of the United States until late winter or early spring, the Service says.

Unlike many owls, Snowy Owls thrive in open grasslands, nest on the ground, and hunt mainly during the day. They feed on small mammals, waterfowl, birds and fish, and, their coloring, large size, unique hunting behavior and remote habitat distinguish them from other owl species.

“Since Snowy Owls tend to remain in the Arctic year-round, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to see them in the upper Midwest this winter, Service Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius said. “I encourage people to get outside and add seeing this owl in the wild to their life list, However, as these birds tend to be in open areas and active during the day, please be aware and respectful so these Arctic visitors can return home in the spring.”

Although many adult Snowy Owls are thriving on their wintering grounds in the upper Midwest, younger birds appearing weak, thin or flightless may be emaciated from their long migration over the boreal forests of Canada. Folks who see a Snowy Owl in this condition should contact their local wildlife rehabilitator. In Indiana:

Snowy Owls are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Under the Act, taking, killing or possessing migratory birds is prohibited. Violation of this Act warrants arrest, jail time, penalties and fines under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


Posted 12/13/2011