More on the Indiana Snowy Owl Invasion

If you love Snowy Owls, northwest Indiana is the place to be right now.  Folks in other parts of the state are just finally getting a taste of what we’ve been experiencing for the past month or so.  It’s simply the largest incursion of Snowy Owls into the state that we have ever witnessed.  That alone is a bold statement.  Is it possible that previous invasions were even greater, but our instant communication and social media allow sightings to really spread better than they would have 20 years ago?  Yes, possible, but still, most sightings would have been heard about, even if months late.

Winter 2013/2014 Snowy Owl Sightings in Indiana.  www.eBird.com.
Winter 2013/2014 Snowy Owl Sightings in Indiana. http://www.eBird.com.

As of this writing 50 (Edit: 52 as of 12/24) Snowy Owls have been logged in the state.  The map below shows where the sightings have occurred. This means that at least 50 Snowy Owls have traveled the thousands of miles to search out food in Indiana.  These sightings have been cross referenced with other nearby sightings and are scrutinized with them closely.  When possible sex and age are noted so that repeat birds are not logged as new birds.  Some high claims and high counts by other states may not have this certainty.

Not only are bird enthusiasts and the general public getting a once in a lifetime experience by seeing so many of these magnificent owls, but researchers stand to gain a wealth of information.  We are learning now that areas of the high arctic, particularly northern Quebec had an outstanding year in terms of Snowy Owl prey.  Lemmings were stock piled at nesting sites and the owls responded by laying many eggs and successfully fledging them all.  Now that many young owls are here, owl banders are switching from night shift banding to day shift to attempt to band and study these great white ghosts from the north.

Crowd watching a  Snowy Owl this month at the Port of Indiana.
Crowd watching a Snowy Owl this month at the Port of Indiana.

Project SNOWstorm, as it’s being called, has multiple facets that will seek to capitalize on this massive event to generate important data about these birds. This is being done via banding, GPS telemetry, specimens, and a photo database. Some surprising data already being collected this year shows that many of these Snowy Owls are not starving or emaciated, as is generally thought when so many are driven from the far north.  The fact that so many are immature, with few adults tells us that the irruption is not likely food related, or we would be seeing more adults coming down too.  Annick Gionet Rollick, from The Owl Foundation is reporting that only one of six birds coming in is emaciated.  The others are in good shape (aside from vehicle collisions).  That’s good news to hear for these Snowy Owls.  Perhaps we’ll see a return spring flight then?

That’s not to say that these owls don’t have their problems.  Snowy Owls are well known to being susceptible to aspergillus.  Their bodies just aren’t exposed to this in the colder climates.  Insect parasites, such as lice, can infest a bird and make life more difficult for them.  Look closely at the photo below.  Those dark specks are lice on an injured Snowy Owl that made it’s way to Dr. McAfee’s office in Valpo last week.

Injured Snowy Owl in Porter Co. this week showing lice.  Dr. McAfees in Valpo.
Injured Snowy Owl in Porter Co. this week showing lice. Dr. McAfees in Valpo.

Human threats are the most serious and one source of stress for these magnificent birds that we can do something about.  Getting out and approaching a wild Snowy Owl is just an all around bad idea.  If the owl has to move or fly away from you, then you are too close. This is compounded at sites where many people are visiting an owl.  What is perceived as a one time movement may be repeated several times a day.  There are great photographers taking amazing pictures with giant lenses that look more like WWII guns than cameras, then there are less then ethical photographers that will move ever closer to try to get a better picture.  Even worse are stories of mice being used for a picture.  Birders should have no hesitation to tell someone if they are too close or to call out individuals giving other birders and photographers a bad name (like a certain red-haired IL photographer driving the crossover SUV bearing the license plate 5518).  They may not be starving, but certainly don’t need the extra stress for no good reason.

Indiana's 48th season Snowy Owl in LaPorte Co. on 12/23/13.
Indiana’s 48th season Snowy Owl in LaPorte Co. on 12/23/13.

So certainly enjoy these sightings.  Go see a Snowy Owl or two.  Take your friends out to see them for Christmas.  But do so respectfully and do report your Snowy Owl sightings if you happen to see one.  Ebird.com is a great place to submit your own Snowy Owl reports.

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “More on the Indiana Snowy Owl Invasion”

  1. I have time off work on 1/4/13 and would love to observe a snowy. Can you help with local sighting locations in past couple days?

  2. Sightings the past couple days have included the outer breakwall at Michigan City Harbor, the breakwalls and ice packs at Calumet Park/Hammond Marina, and the county roads south of the Westville Correctional Facility in Westville (600S, 700S, 800S). The state park will likely lead a car pool tour to see Snowy Owls on Sunday at 2pm from the park nature center.

      1. Yesterday I see them about 4 times a week on the way to work all I have is binoculars so I can’t get pics I have one from my phone wish I could get ahold of someone with a good camera I live five min from during I noticed them about 3 weeks ago they are most active early morning and before dark if interested I would love to show these awesome birds you can reach me at 2192991989 I just started getting into bird watching over the summer we have 6 bald eagles here and I believe a guy called it agolden eagle

  3. POSTING THIS, MARCH 2016, BUT LAST YEAR IN FEBRUARY 2015, AT AROUND 1AM, I WAS GOING DOWN STAIRS TO GET A DRINK OF WATER, WE HAVE THIS CAPTAINS WINDOW AT THE BASE OF THE FIRST SET OF STAIRS, AND THERE IT WAS LOOKING RIGHT AT ME, PERCHED ON OUR LAMPPOST IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR YARD, IT WAS HUGE, ALL WHITE AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING I HAD EVER SEEN, WE WERE JUST BOTH STARE AT EACH OTHER FOR A LONG TIME , I WAS SO MESMERIZED BY THE SIZE AND BEAUTY OF THIS CREATURE I COULDNT MOVE. I WANTED TO CALL OUT TO MY FAMILY BUT WAS AFRAID IT WOULD FLY AWAY. I WANTED TO RUN AND GET MY CELL TO TAKE A PIC, BUT WAS AFRAID IT WOULD FLY AWAY, EVENTUALLY I WENT TO FIND MY CELL , WHEN I GOT BACK IT WAS GONE. IVE OFTEN WONDERED WHY THIS WHITE SNOW OWL PICKED MY YARD, OUR LAMPPOST LIGHT WAS ON, BUT NOW IM THINKING WEVE HAD A HUGE PROBLEM WITH MOLES IN OUR YARD, AND IVE JUST READ THATS SOMETHING THEY EAT. IM SERIOUS WHEN I SAY IT WAS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CREATURE I HAVE EVER SEEN. AND NO IM NOT A BIRD WATCHER, BUT NOW OBSESSED WITH THESE CREATURES, PRAYING IT RETURNS.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s