Monday, January 13, 2014

Snowy Owl

I was glum because everyone seemed to be reporting Snowy Owls from nearby Dakota County. Erika and I already had made three unsuccessful trips to see the birds. Sunday morning I was moping around the house.  “OK,” announced Erika, “One more try.” We had just arrived when we spied a Snowy Owl perched on a roadside telephone pole.

Taking these photos, I looked in the rear view mirror and was surprised to see a line of two or three cars. Usually I am not thrilled to be among a mob of birders. In this case, however, I make an exception—it sure was nice of these folks to help us push our car out of the snow drift in which I had parked! A heartfelt thanks to them all!

In previous posts in this blog (2011, 2012), I wrote that Snowy Owl invasions were the result of low Arctic lemming populations. A fascinating article on the eBird website offers a different hypothesis. High lemming populations result in large owl clutches with consequent huge owl numbers. The owls are forced to move south in search of food. One piece of evidence for this idea is that many of the owls that move south are immatures, which would be a major component of the population if there were too many owls. The  eBird website contains a great deal of Snowy Owl information and describes how this year’s invasion is slightly different than previous influxes.
As do all raptors, Snowy Owls regurgitate pellets containing the bones and fur of their prey. I believe this owl is yawning. Snowy Owls are daytime hunters, which is lucky for them, considering the nearly 24-hour daylight of the Arctic summer. Perhaps this owl was just getting ready for the day. We watched the owl for about 20 minutes before a friendly farmer drove up and asked what we were doing. We pointed to the top of the telephone pole. He gasped so loudly and with such surprise at seeing the owl perched so close, that the owl flew off, low over the surrounding fields.

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