This has been a remarkable winter for local birders and ornithologists due to the invasion, or irruption, of snowy owls in the area. URI’s resident snowy expert, Natural Resources Science Professor Peter Paton, spoke on CBS Evening News yesterday; unfortunately he seems to have been lost in subsequent editing. (Still, go here to see the problems they are causing up at Logan Airport.) Paton, who estimates that 20-30 snowy owls have passed through Rhode Island this winter — far more than the one or two that typically show up in the state each year — gives his explanation for the influx;
Standing 2 feet tall with a 5-foot wingspan, mature male snowy owls are pure white, but younger birds have gray barring on their white plumage. It’s the immature birds that Paton says have been arriving in the area in large numbers.
“A lot of their migration is driven by the abundance of food – lemmings – in the Arctic,” he said. “But my guess is that last summer there was also high production of snowy owl chicks, and the immature birds aren’t strong enough hunters to find food in the Arctic in winter, so they’re dispersing down here.”
Last December, Providence urban wildlife photographer Peter Green spotted a snowy owl in town and spent a good three weeks documenting its activities. He comments on the above shot, “Migrating snowy owls prey on ducks and other shorebirds, so I most often spotted the owl resting peacefully on a dock or barge, watching the passing ducks.” Go to Mr. Green’s website Providence Raptors for more amazing photos of this extraordinary bird. Check out the dive-bombing crow protecting his turf.
Unfortunately a few of the Arctic visitors have been injured negotiating this alien urban landscape. Yesterday, Mr. Green accompanied rehabilitators from the Born to be Wild Nature Center as they released one such owl, now healed from a broken wing. A second slightly dinged up snowy owl found limping along Allens Avenue will be released on Sunday. (ProJo 1.9.14)
After the jump: The rare Snowy Meowl. (Thanks once again to Peter Green for letting us use these photos.)