Backyard Chirper

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Unprecendented number of Snowy Owls appear across the U.S.

The Snowy Owl, a beautifully majestic bird that’s only occasionally seen in the United States every few years, is swooping into the country in large numbers.

This is a nice treat for enthusiastic birders who have yet to cross the Snowy Owl off their life list because the birds have been spotted across the country from Oregon to New Jersey and as far south as Oklahoma and Kansas. In an even rarer treat, one Snowy Owl was seen in Hawaii. For a detailed look at all the sightings this winter, check out this map on eBird.

It’s not uncommon for these Arctic birds to cross down into the United States every three or four winters, but the irruptions of this magnitude are unprecedented. There were more than 45 spotted in Kansas, 30 in Missouri and 30 in South Dakota.

This influx of Snowy Owls can be attributed to fluctuations in the ecosystem. Over the summer, the Snowy Owl’s food of choice, the Arctic lemming, was particularly populous. This in turn helped create a robust breeding season for the Snowy Owls. Then in the winter, when the supply of lemmings goes short and there are an unusually high number of Snowy Owls, they venture farther south to search for other food sources.

Snowy Owls are amazing birds to see in person and are very photogenic. They have bright yellow eyes, lush-looking white plumage and can grow to more than two feet tall. While the Snowy Owl has always been a recognizable bird, the species rose to international prominence after the Harry Potter series came out because Potter’s trusty assistant Hedwig was a Snowy Owl.

In an article from the Bangor Daily News, Denver Holt of the Owl Research Institute was quoted saying that the books and movies thrust the Snowy Owl into the spotlight. Here’s more from him:

“We were inundated with phone calls from people about all these kids wanting to have pet snowy owls,” Holt said. “It just went crazy for a while there.”

I’m not against having certain birds as pets, but it’s inconceivable to think of a kid keeping one of these large rodent-eating birds. I’m sure any sane parent would have talked some sense into their child.

If you’re trying to go out and spot a Snowy Owl for yourself, keep in mind they’re drawn to frozen lakes and open prairies because lakes remind them of the tundra and prairies are homes to various rodents. Snowy Owls are diurnal, meaning they are awake and active during the day instead of at night like many other owls (so if you see a white owl at night, it’s probably just a barn owl). If they have been seen in your area, you’re likely to spot one of them in the middle of a field looking around for something to eat.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.


  1. Hello Geri. I’m glad you enjoy the site. While you might not be able to see a Snowy Owl, you’ll definitely get to see a lot of other birds people north of you never will.

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