Tag Archives: Lemmings

Snowy Owl Sleeping – Please Do Not Disturb

I dream about Snowies sometimes, especially in wintertime. I wonder if Snowies dream–probably, if they do, its all about tasty morsels 🙂

Sleepy Snowy Boy in the wildflower patch.

Do Snowy Owls, like other owl species, feed at night?

Snowy Owls are crepuscular (active and feed at dawn and dusk), diurnal (hunt during the day time), and nocturnal (hunt during darkness). Mostly, while wintering in our region, they rest during the daylight hours. When you see a Snowy sleeping, whether on the beach, a fence post, rooftop, or tree, please give him/her lots of space and let him rest quietly and undisturbed.

In the summer months, Snowies feed in the continuous daylight hours of the Arctic. Their main source of food is lemmings. In years when lemmings are super abundant, female Snowies will actually lay more eggs! Both the male and female hunt and bring food to the growing owlets. Feeding a hungry brood of baby owls is nonstop during the long days of the Arctic summer, and the owls also cache food.

What do Snowy Owls eat when wintering over in New England? I’ll share what we saw Hedwig eat because I am reading tons of misinformation posted online. We saw her eating rabbits, shrews, rats, mice, and yes, sea ducks. At day’s end, she would leave her hotel perch, sometimes heading over the golf course for a rabbit, or swooping down to the rocky shoreline for a shrew, or out to sea for a Common Eider or Bufflehead.

A cache of lemmings circling a Snowy Owl nest–and btw, aren’t they just the cutest!

A Snowy Owl irruption occurs when there is an abundance of lemmings, which leads to an abundance of Snowy Owl hatchlings (more lemmings equals fewer hungry owlets), which leads to more fledglings. Easier-to-catch food is available for the less experienced young hunters further south in the lower 48 states. The adults typically keep north, the first- and second-hatch-year owls often head south. This is another reason to keep a respectful distance, many of the owls are still developing and growing.

Our Hedwig appeared especially adept at catching rodents that were scurrying between the rocks at Bass Rocks. In summer, Arctic Lemmings shelter in shallow underground burrows, or under rocks, just as do Cape Ann members of the rodent family.

Interestingly, some Snowy Owls move further north for the winter. They spend these darkest and most frigid of months at sea, ice hunting for Arctic birds at open patches of water.

Please Do Not Distrub

HELLO HEDWIG! WHAT ARE YOU EATING? SNOWY OWL WEEKEND UPDATE

Hedwig foggy morning.

Hedwig has been seen daily along the backshore, mostly laying low during the day. She has become quite expert in fooling the crows as to her whereabouts. Fog, snow, rain, or sunshine, she isn’t deterred much from her routine of sleeping, resting, and grooming during the day, in preparation for an evening of hunting.

Early this week I watched in amazement as Hedwig swooped down from her perch and flew hundreds of feet directly to the rocks and in between crevasses. She resurfaced with a small mammal in her mouth and ate it very quickly–from the time she flew off her perch until she gave a satisfied lick of her beak could not have taken more than three minutes. I felt very fortunate to have witnessed a glimpse of her hunting prowess, albeit all too brief.

Perhaps the tail is too long for a mouse or rat and too short for a vole, but perhaps not. Small mammal caretaker Erin Whitmore wrote with her suggestion. What do you think Hedwig is eating?

Hedwig eating a black and white sea duck.

Again, tonight she flew off her perch, this time heading out to sea. In mere minutes she returned with a sea duck of some sort and proceeded to eviscerate, much to the thrill of her Sunday evening fan club. The lighting was low and I was mostly filming, but did manage a few stills.The duck was black and white and as she mostly sat on her catch while eating, it was difficult to determine which species. Without a crow in sight (as they had surely settled for the night), Hedwig ate well into the early evening.

The feathers were flying! Hedwig with feathers on her face but it’s almost too dark to see.

She’s finding the eating here in Gloucester excellent, but with the warm weather predicted for the upcoming week, I wonder if Hedwig will stay or that will be a cue to depart for the Arctic.

Please don’t get electrocuted Hedwig, as happened recently to a Snowy in southern Massachusetts!

RATS, RATS, AND MORE RATS! SNOWY OWL HEDWIG WEEKEND UPDATE #2

Hedwig was observed Saturday morning, when repeated harassment by a flock of crows sent her hiding. She reappeared Saturday afternoon, and was again seen Sunday morning in the drizzle, not too far from where she was perched Saturday evening. Later Sunday afternoon she slept and rested in the pouring rain.

Hedwig sleeping in the rain (thank you to Arly Pett for letting me know she was out in the rain!)

That she stays in a highly localized winter territory seems in keeping with known Snowy Owl behavior traits. I read that during the summer season in the Arctic, male Snowies hunt over hundreds of miles, whereas female Snowies typically hunt within a much smaller range. She has been observed eating sea ducks and rabbits and there are plenty of rat holes along the backshore rocks.

Both rats and lemmings (the Snowies super food in the Arctic) belong to the order Rodentia. From wiki, “A lemming is a small rodent usually found in or near the Arctic in tundra biomes. Lemmings are subnivean animals. They make up the subfamily Arcicolinae together with voles and muskrats which forms part of the superfamily Muroidea which also includes rats, mice, hamsters, and gerbils.”

Lemming (Lemmini)

Often Hedwig has been seen flying straight out over the water towards Twin Lights. I wondered, if she is hunting there, does Thacher Island have a rat population. Thacher Island Association president Paul St. Germain answers that question for our readers, 

“Hi Kim, there are lots of rats on Thacher mostly in the shore line rocks. We don’t see them often but know they are there. I discovered a bunch in the cellar of the keeper house making their nest in an old tarp. I would love to see Hedwig out there but we don’t go out in the winter. Have never seen snowy owls in the summer.” 

Great info and thanks to Paul for sharing that! A Snowy Owl has been seen on the rocks in Rockport, across the strait, opposite Twin Lights, and wonder if it is our Hedwig.

Rat and Lemming photos courtesy wiki commons media

This brings up the topic, what to do if you have a rat problem. The absolute worst way to control rats is with rat poison, namely for the sake of beautiful predatory birds such as Snowy Owls, falcons, hawks, and eagles. Birds that ingest rats that have been poisoned with rat poison will generally become gravely ill and die. Secondly, it is a cruel, slow death for the rat. They will usually go back to their nest to die. If that nest is located behind a wall in your home, you will smell that unmistakeable horrendous smell for many months. Thirdly, rat poison is only 60 percent effective. I wonder if the rats that survive rat poison will go on to breed super rats.

The best way to avoid having to kill a rat is to make sure they cannot gain access to your home or business by regularly inspecting soffits and woodwork for holes. Old-fashioned snap traps and live trapping continue to be the most effective way to rid your home or business of rats.

Saturday I stopped to say hello to a group of birders flocked together along the backshore who had traveled all the way from western Mass. They were observing Grebes, Buffleheads, and a Common Murre. And a Puffin had been spotted! I asked if they were planning to go to any of our local restaurants for lunch, but they had packed lunches. One Mom shared that an expert from Audubon told the group that there were at least a “dozen Snowy Owls” on Bass Rocks. Bananas! I have to say that it makes me hoppin’ mad when folks spread misinformation about our local wildlife. I gently told her that no, there were not a dozen owls, but that if she and her group waited until late afternoon, they might catch sight of Hedwig.

Twin Lights from a Snowy Owl POV