Unprecedented Invasion Of Snowy Owls Now Taking Place

An unprecedented invasion of snowy owls is taking place with at least six different owls reported from locations throughout Chautauqua County.

Through Dec. 29, individuals have been seen as far south as Florida and even out in Bermuda. For more information, visit the Roger Tory Peterson Institute website at www.rtpi.org/blog or find updates on RTPI’s Facebook page.

Many of the snowy owls seen outside of their normal range in the arctic tundra are young, born this year. The most likely explanation is that snowy owl populations experienced a banner year with an abundance of food, allowing more than usual chick numbers to survive. The ensuing high population density is urging young animals to disperse form their birth grounds in search for new, tundra-like territories to settle into.

As a result, most of these birds end up in open terrain with low vegetation, airports tend to be a favorite habitat, or along the shore of a large body of open water. Perched on an elevated point such as fenceposts, roofs or utility poles, snowy owls can sometimes spend all day scanning their surroundings for potential food. These spectacular birds are a sight to behold.

The Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History is trying to help other scientists to figure out the dynamics of this owl invasion by gathering relevant information. For example, nobody knows whether these owls return north if they don’t find a suitable place to settle. Also, scientists don’t know if the same owls are seen in a certain area over a prolonged period of time or whether they are constantly moving around, causing different individuals to show up in similar areas at different times.

Those who see a snowy owl or have a photograph of an individual owl can contact RTPI by calling 665-2473. Details of their color pattern can reveal information on their age and sex, and will allow scientists to identify unique individual owls to get a better handle on the true number of snowy owls in the area. Information can also be emailed to Scott Kruitbosch, RTPI conservation and outreach coordinator, at skruitbosch@rtpi.org.