In This Place
2:12 pm
Mon December 16, 2013

Snowy Owls Appearing in Numbers

Snowy owl on South Cape Beach
Credit Mike Schanbacher
Snowy Owls

There's a snowy owl invasion afoot, and not just on Cape Cod. There are sightings throughout the northeast, with stragglers as far south as Cape Hatteras. Experts say this could turn out to be the largest influx of snowy owls into New England on record.

What's behind this so-called irruption? Dr. Kevin McGowan of Cornell's Lab of Ornithology says there are a number of possibilities, among them a population boom in the eastern Arctic, or especially nasty weather in eastern Canada. Basically, they're looking for food, and they'll go as far south as they need to in order to find it.

A good resource for spotting owls, or telling others what you've seen is ebird.org. This map shows reported sightings from November through December 11th. Note the concentration on the immediate Atlantic Coast, the exceptional records south to North Carolina and Bermuda, and the relative scarcity in the Great Plains and Pacific Northwest.

McGowan says the owls are not very vocal this far south. So here are some sounds they would make while up in the Arctic:

Snowy Owl Male territorial hoot or "advertisement" song.
Snowy Owl Male bark calls given in alarm at nest.
Snowy Owl Female bark calls and bill snap.
Credit Mike Schanbacher