Snowy Owls Return But Biologist Says Enjoy At A Distance

Nov 29, 2017

Snowy Owl
Credit Wisconsin DNR

A visitor from the far north of Canada is visiting Wisconsin from now into our springtime.

Ornithologists are noting a large influx, or an 'irruption' of snowy owls into the Northwoods. The heaviest of all North American owls, tipping the scales at 3 to 6 pounds, their bright white plumage, large yellow eyes, massive feathered feet attract attention.

DNR conservation biologist Ryan Brady in Ashland says the number of owl vary depending on conditions near the Arctic Circle. Brady says the reasons for the influx are a bit mysterious, but it's thought to be related to an increase in the lemming population in Canada. When the small rodents have a population rise, the adults are able to feed their young snowy owls...

"...based on the way they look they appear to be these young birds. We're seeing they had really good reproductive success this year and they have lots of these youngsters moving south into Wisconsin...."

Brady says the owls feed on mice and voles when here, but they will feed on other birds, rabbits, largely any creature they think they can get the best of.

He says the owls are very attractive to see, but cautioned people from getting too close...

"....make sure you give the owls space. It's very exciting to see these birds, but in many cases, they're somewhat stressed. It's a long journey, they're young birds, they're not as experienced. They may have never seen people or cars before. Even though they may be easy to approach but it might not be a good idea to do so. Everyone wants to get a picture with their cell phone, but really try to not disturb the birds...."

Brady says the owls are likely to be around until March or April, then head north again for the summer.