Tag Archives: Snowy Owl Massachusetts

SHORT-EARED OWLS IN OUR MIDST!

Melded to the grass as he was, in monochromatic winter pasture shades of taupe, buff, and gray, it was nearly impossible to spot the impostor posing in the dry stalks and twigs. But there he was, a small mound resting along the thicket edge. You can barely see him in the photo below.

He sat up for a brief moment and even from a great distance his wide-eyed, and only seconds long, golden-eyed look was unmissable.

I’ve read the Short-eared Owl flight described as erratic, but I would call it anything but that. They swoop gracefully over fields in multi-directions, with great intention, listening for the sound of voles, moles, mice and other small mammals scurrying through the tall winter grass and phragmites. Flying low while hunting, their wingbeats are smooth and steady.

The Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)  is called as such because of the little tufts of display feathers atop its head, which aren’t really ears at all. The Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) is a cousin of the Short-eared and it has longer feather tufts. Owls have a highly developed hearing system and their ears are actually located at the sides of their heads, behind the eyes, and are covered by the feathers of the facial disc.

Unlike many species of owls, which prefer forest and woodland, the Short-eared Owls is a bird of open country. They require fields, grasslands, marshes, bogs, heaths, and dunes. Shorties are crepuscular, which means they mostly feed at dawn and dusk.

Short-eared Owls are found the world over on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Sadly, in Massachusetts, breeding pairs have been driven to the brink of extirpation. There may still be one or two pairs that breed at Nantucket’s Tuckernuck Island but, because of loss of habitat, the Short-eared Owl was listed as endangered in Massachusetts in 1985.

Listen for the Short-eared Owls wing “clapping” in the video below, and some adorable chicks, too 🙂

From Cornell: “Hawaii’s only native owl, the Pueo (Asio flammeus sandwichensis), is a Short-eared Owl subspecies found on all the chain’s major islands. Pueos may have descended from Alaska forebears, taking hold in the islands after the first arriving Polynesians brought owl food in the form of the Pacific rat.”

Short-eared Owl Range Map

OWL FEVER!

This past weekend’s glorious and record breaking mid-January 70-degree-plus weather encouraged everyone to get out doors and it was wonderful to see. On both Saturday and Sunday there was a line to get into Parker River Wildlife Refuge. Many were enjoying the beaches and hiking the trails while quite a few were there to see the Snowy Owls and Short-eared Owls.

There are currently two Snowy Owls and several Short-eared Owls at Parker River. Folks are asking where the owls can be found specifically. I can only share where I have seen them and that covers almost the entire refuge, from parking lot no.1 (where the gates are) all the way down to parking lot no. 6. The photographers and birders out shooting at the refuge are super helpful and if you see a bunch, park  your car (intelligently please, so that you are not blocking traffic) and ask. Many of the birders will also share a look through their scopes.

 

Do Snowy Owls Hunt During the Day or Night?

Chance encounter, of the majestic Snowy Owl kind-

Snowy Owl perching in a pine tree after sunset.

I wasn’t expecting to see a Snowy Owl overhead in a pine tree, although its not entirely uncommon. Because Snowy Owlets hatch in the summertime in the treeless Arctic tundra, they may never even see a tree until they migrate southward.

Generally, Snowies prefer wide open spaces such as dunes, sandy beaches, fields, and airports, because this habitat looks most similar to the tundra.

For the same reason (their home territory is above the Arctic Circle), Snowy Owls hunt during the day in their summer range. Their eyes have evolved to hunt in the continuous daylight of the far north. When migrating to the lower 48 states, Snowies adapt to the shifting light. Unlike other species of owls, the Snowy Owl hunts during the day (this behavior is called diurnal), the night (nocturnal), and at twilight (crepuscular).

From observing Snowy Owls in our region, they mostly feed very early in the morning, before daybreak, rest during the day in dunes and fields, then at day’s end, fly up and perch on an open rooftop or phone pole (less occasionally to treetops), to begin hunting again. The elevated perches provide better visibility for triangulating prey.

At day’s end, perching on a phone pole and scanning the neighborhood.

Beach structures make great perches.

Even a flag pole makes for a terrific hunting perch for a Snowy!

Exciting Immature Snowy Owl Sighting In East Gloucester Today!

Juvenile Snowy Owl  Gloucester Massachusetts. ©Kim Smith 2015Immature Snowy Owl East Gloucester 

Esme, Meadow, Atticus, Pilar, Frieda ©Kim Smith 2015Budding Ornithologists Meadow, Atticus, Frieda, Esme, and Pilar

Snowy Owl East Gloucester Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015Thanks so much to my sweet friends Dawn and Michelle for thinking to call me to come see!

Snowy Owlet East Gloucester Massachusetts. ©Kim Smith 2015See previous Snowy Owl post: Birds of Cape Ann and the Magic of the Snowy Owl

Birds of New England and the Magic of the Snowy Owl

765px-Bubo_scandiacus_Delta_6During this season of the great Snowy Owl irruption of 2013, owlets were recently identified as far south as Florida and as far west as Bermuda!

425px-Snowy_Owl_-_Schnee-EuleA mature adult male may be completely white; the females and owlets have the contrasting dark dots and dashes.

Typically, the Snowy Owls that we see in our region during the winter months are not mature adults. The fledged owlets have yet to fully develop the skills needed to hunt in the Arctic tundra where food is in short supply during the winter months. The immatures migrate south in search of more plentifully available food in warmer hunting grounds. Not all Snowy Owlets migrate south, and some even migrate further north, heading for patches of open water to feed on fish.

The above though does not explain why there are so many Snowy Owls this year. One reason scientists speculate is that the Snowy Owl is having an irruptive year because it was so warm in the Arctic this past summer. There may have been an explosion in the Arctic lemming population, which would lead to a strong rate of survival amongst Snowy Owlets.

A recent controversy involving the slaughtering of Snowy Owls by The New York Port Authority was solved by adopting Boston’s Logan Airport model of capturing and relocating the Snowies. Why are Snowy Owls so interested in airports when they really prefer open areas such as sand dunes, marshes, native grasslands, jetties, and undisturbed beaches? Habitat destruction. As native grasslands have given way to development, in some regions, the only remaining open habitats are found at airports.

Snowy Owl With American Black DuckSnowy Owl Photo By Chuck Homler d/b/a FocusOnWildlife

To learn more about the Magic of the Snowy Owl see this beautiful film from the PBS Nature series: Magic of the Snowy Owl

All images courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Snowy-Owl-Infographic-110912

Click infographic to view larger

To see more of Chuck Homler’s work, visit his website at focusonwildlife.me and facebok.com/focusonwildlife.