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January Snowy Owl Update

Posted on Jan 12, 2015

This blog entry is a companion to the Winter Bird Forecasts brought to you by Audubon Connecticut and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History. Be sure to check out Winter Bird Forecast #3! As we enter the New Year we in the Mid-Atlantic and New England have been feeling mostly below-average temperatures as the weather finally reflects the climate more than it has. Snow cover is certainly starting to shape up over the landscape and birds like the Snowy Owl are now camouflaged against our earth and skies.

Snowy Owl Dunkirk Airport fence

I wanted to see where we were in this winter’s Snowy Owl irruption, how the birds are currently distributed and what role I think our weather is or is not playing in their lives. Here is a look at the national snow depth as of Sunday, January 11.


I would venture to say this is somewhat near average for mid-January in terms of cover, and while the depth is certainly a bit low in some locations it could easily still be at zero in some others. With that said today will wash away some of this snow for those to the east and add a few more inches for those towards the Great Lakes. The upcoming week does not look particularly stormy for our neck of the woods. Northeastern readers will have to wait a while longer for true wintry conditions if you live outside of the Great Lakes. Speaking of the Lakes here is their ice cover as of Saturday, January 10.


That percentage is less than last year’s as frigid temperatures had an icy grip on the region for nearly the entire season, keeping waterfowl and many other birds pushed to the south (perhaps helping move some more of the Snowy Owls already taking flight). Indeed it seems that our Snowy friends are keeping to mostly the same areas as they were in December with little motivation to move around much more. This eBird map shows their occurrences as of yesterday, January 11, for 2015 only.

Snowy Owl map January 11 2015

There are certainly many sightings that have been made in less than two weeks! Their numbers are not as high as last year’s staggering movement, but if you live near water in the Northeast you stand a good chance of being able to find one. In the Midwest the birds seem to be a bit more detached with observers reporting them from inland areas. The Great Lakes, and our own Chautauqua County, are still going strong – just last week four individuals were reported as being seen simultaneously at Dunkirk Airport in Dunkirk, New York, right on Lake Erie.

Perhaps with a colder than usual pattern in place the Great Lakes ice cover will accelerate and waterfowl will continue to slide to the south, moving more owls with them, as the winter hunt drags on. Other smaller bodies of water – even our own very large in itself Chautauqua Lake – have now frozen over as well.

I have said it before and I will say it again: there are definitely more Snowy Owls being seen than can be found on that map! Please report your sightings of them and all the birds you can to eBird in order to help track these events and fill in the blanks on avian conservation and management for scientists across the globe. Thank you to all of our eBirders for their help in learning about, valuing and saving these species for the world of future generations.

Our next Winter Bird Forecast brought to you by Audubon Connecticut and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History will be coming soon! Don’t forget to read Winter Bird Forecast #3 – good birding!

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator