Respecting Snowy Owls - Visitors from the Arctic Tundra
Smithfield, R.I. (December 6, 2017) – A few Snowy Owls are typically spotted in Rhode Island each year, but over the past few weeks sightings have been on the rise. We may be experiencing an irruption year, when larger than usual numbers of Snowy Owls make their way from the Arctic to the lower 48 states. They have been spotted in areas along the shore from Block Island to Middletown, and one was recently observed perched on a chimney in Providence.
To see an owl is a gift in itself, but to see a large, white Snowy Owl is magical. They can be found during the day, out in the open along the shore, on the ground or on a low bush, rock or fence post. On rare occasions, they will head inland and then these large white birds might be observed in urban areas, often on rooftop perches.
Their beautiful yellow eyes are striking and their feathery talons make it appear as if they are wearing snowshoes. And if you glimpse them in flight, you will witness a five-foot wingspan. Snowy Owls are simply majestic to behold.
As nature enthusiasts flock to the shore in hopes of glimpsing these birds, Audubon experts worry about the stress these owls are facing - caused by their long journey, shortage of food and human interference.
Many wonder why Snowy Owls travel south to begin with, and why their numbers are so much higher in certain years. “It's all about food!” explains Audubon Senior Director of Education and expert birder Lauren Parmelee. “Snowy Owl numbers are closely connected to the populations of rodents in the Arctic region called lemmings. In years when there are plenty of lemmings, these owls lay more eggs and successfully raise more young to adulthood. But when winter comes to the tundra, competition for food increases dramatically and many of the younger birds disperse beyond the boundaries of their arctic habitat.” These hungry birds will then travel a great distance looking for food and will appear on the beaches and rocky shorelines in Rhode Island and other coastal states.
Please respect these visitors from the Arctic tundra.
These birds are tired and stressed from their long journey. Please follow these guidelines when viewing Snowy Owls this winter.
· Don’t try to creep close. Be content to view at a distance. Give Snowy Owls a space of 200 to 300 feet or more. This is not a bird you should be sneaking up on with your camera phone. Use binoculars and spotting scopes if you have them.
· Try to stay as a group if there is more than one observer. Never encircle the owl. All viewers should stay on one side of the bird.
· Snowy owls are powerful hunters and very capable of capturing prey – please do not try to feed them.
· Don’t observe these owls for an overly long period of time. Your presence causes stress.
· Spread the word about respectful birding etiquette and keeping a safe distance. You can help to ensure that these Snowy Owls have a better chance of making it home to the arctic region this spring.
These birds are protected by The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA), a United States federal law. Violations of harassment or endangerment of these birds should be immediately reported to:
RI Department of Environmental Management Law Enforcement, 401-222-3070