By Tim Boucher, senior conservation geographer
Last winter it was the finches.
This winter, especially on the east coast, it’s all about the Snowy Owls – a sudden and dramatic invasion.
The invasion has caught every one off guard – usually they occur every four years or so. Since the last one was in the winter of 2011-12, no one was expecting such a massive invasion this winter.
The reports are staggering – people in south-eastern Canada are seeing up to 200 in a day.
They’re being reported as far south as Charleston, South Carolina, and east to Bermuda (yes, in the middle of the ocean).
In my neck of the woods (the Washington, DC area), as many as ten are within striking distance – some quite close. Airports are a favorite haunt, since there are open grasslands, favored by rodents, which are in turn eaten by the owls.
Small numbers of owls head south every year. Theories abound as to the reasons why there are such high numbers this year. But one thing we know for sure, there must have been a very successful breeding season up north as most of the birds we are seeing are juveniles.
Juveniles are usually the ones that make these dramatic movements – mostly being pushed away by stronger adults, as there is competition for food at this time of year. Later, they will be trying to find their own territories.
If you want to find out if there is one near where you live, either hop onto eBird where people have been reporting them, or find your local birding listserv and read the archives – if one has been seen, it will surely have been reported.
My advice if there is one in your area? Don’t wait; go see it immediately.
For as I learned the hard way, it might move on pretty quickly, looking for more favorable hunting grounds. And if you do see one, report it on eBird – so that scientists can gather data on this invasion.
And finally, please practice the safe birding rules – don’t get too close and don’t harass the bird (or any bird for the matter) – it has flown a long way, is stressed out, hungry, and is trying to get through the winter.