web analytics

Snowy Owls spreading south

Posted on Nov 16, 2014

In the past week, since I posted this entry about another possible irruption, more Snowy Owls have moved in to southern Canada and the United States. One bird was found and photographed by Michele Rundquist-Franz, President of the Presque Isle Audubon Society, in Erie, Pennsylvania, not too far from us at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History in Jamestown, New York. Local excitement went up another level this weekend as two Snowy Owls appeared here in our own Chautauqua County on Saturday, November 15, both at the Dunkirk Airport. The first was found in the morning by our friend Gale VerHague with another reported in the late afternoon on our Chautauqua County Birds list serv.

Here is the Snowy Owl eBird map for August through November 16, 2014, as of the late evening of the 16th. Sightings in the past 30 days are in orange. Look at how many more birds came south in mere days!

Snowy Owls eBird August November 2014 map on November 16

That bird in Oklahoma is impressive and it seems to be an outlier for the moment. The Great Lakes and Northeast added a bunch of sightings. It is still early in the season and in years with minor movements I have a hard time remembering birds before the very end of November. One of my impressions from that map is that there is a wider geographical distribution through the central flyway this year than in the same August to November time frame in 2013. Let’s see, true or false? Here’s the previous year over that period.

Snowy Owls eBird August November 2013 map

Well, the maps certainly seem similar on the surface. There are many more pins on the 2013 map because we still have two weeks left, users may still need to enter birds, and Snowy Owl sightings should, in theory, be increasing in frequency every day. New England and the Mid-Atlantic coast were buried in birds very quickly in 2013. There are definitely more in central areas of Canada this year and maybe their range will be wider…or perhaps they were logged now and simply were not then. Again, please keep in mind that none of this is possible without sightings entered into eBird by people like you!

It will be a very cold and snowy week, unusually so for November, in many areas where Snowy Owls have already been seen. This should only encourage more of them to move around on cooperative winds and to follow the waterfowl, a main source of Snowy Owl food, also on the way south.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator