web analytics

Snowy Owl December Update

Posted on Dec 17, 2014

If you are in Connecticut please be sure to check out winter birding forecast #1 brought to you by Audubon Connecticut and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History. We will have more information on that new aspect of our partnership effort soon!

In the month since I last posted an extended update about the 2014-2015 Snowy Owl irruption we have had a great number of additional birds coming south into the continental United States. Southern parts of Canada are also recording more owls at expected locations. The most intriguing part of their movement, in my opinion, is how Snowy Owls seem to be remaining concentrated in areas like the New England, the Mid-Atlantic and the Upper Midwest. The Great Lakes seem to be an especially popular area, and many smaller bodies of water and rivers are also often hotspots. Here is the eBird Snowy Owl eBird map for August through December 17, 2014.

Snowy Owl eBird map August-December 17 2014

There are only a few outliers that have moved into states like Kansas and Wyoming, and the furthest south a bird has traveled along the Atlantic Coast still seems to be Maryland. Western states are picking up a few more birds but it has stayed quiet there as well. I wonder if a lot of open and unfrozen water at this point in the late autumn season that has kept much of our waterfowl in the very same areas that Snowy Owls appear to be concentrated has anything to do with it. Did we have an extreme incursion of birds last year because of an exceptionally successful breeding season and the frigid temperatures that smacked the Northeast?  I have to think it at least had an influence on how far south some went.

I wish we had more precise Snowy Owl data and distribution maps like this one going back a few decades. I think it would be a terrific exercise to see if they, frozen water, temperatures and select waterfowl species had even a small correlation. As I wrote previously this irruption is almost assuredly the result of having still higher than average Snowy Owl population numbers from the 2013 breeding season, and what data has come in points to a strong, if not as successful, 2014 summer for the birds. Nevertheless, I will be eagerly awaiting news and information on their movements in the next month to see if more birds join the flight and if they remain concentrated in the current regions.

I do know there are some missing points on that map because additional birds have been reported on list servs, phone calls, Facebook, and so on but never entered into eBird. Do not let them be forgotten forever in the void! Please join and use eBird and make the Snowy Owl your excuse for becoming a contributor to this global citizen science effort. There is no better, easier and cheaper (free!) New Year’s Resolution. It really does make a tremendous difference for the conservation of our birds.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator