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    The 2013 Snowy Owl Invasion: It's getting crazier by the minute

    Maybe you’ve heard…. There’s Snowy Owls around. A lot of them. They’re turning up on people’s houses, cars and tractors, all over the northeast and midwest. They’re getting into dust-ups with crows and Peregrines. It’s incredible! Check out the photo/video highlights below to enjoy some of the craziness thus far.

    And if you want to try and see a Snowy Owl, join Jeff & Liz Gordon, Marshall Iliff, Wayne Petersen, myself, and your fellow ABA members for the ABA Rally in Plymouth, MA this Jan. 31-Feb 3, 2014. We’ll certainly be on the look-out for this iconic bird (and others!) and coastal Mass. is a great area for them.

    (Photo © Ryan Schain)

    Coastal Massachusetts is often a hot zone for Snowies. This one was at Revere, MA on Dec. 3rd. (Photo © Ryan Schain)

    Obviously we need to keep in mind that these owls are hungry. They probably cleared out from the north in part due to a lack of food. That is perhaps troubling, but there is a long history of these “invasions”. This is the largest invasion in a couple decades. As a result lots of people who don’t normally have the chance are getting to see a giant mythical white owl from the arctic; and what is cooler than that?!

    Phil Vivaldi in Maryland walked out of the house and found this...

    Phil Vivaldi in Maryland walked out of the house and found this… (Photo © Phil Vivaldi)

    Tractor-top Snowy in Calvery county Maryland (Photo © Leslie Starr)

    Not everyday you see a tractor-top Snowy like this one in Calvert county, Maryland (Photo © Leslie Starr)

    Snowies don’t restrict themselves to perching on cars and tractors either. A couple have turned up on boats out at sea too. One made it all the way to Bermuda this year for only the 3rd modern record.

    A Snowy Owl even turned up in this McDonald’s parking lot in Maryland as videoed by Keecha Chenjo.

    Some places are overrun with Snowies. Up in Newfoundland Bruce MacTavish and friends were covered up in them, totaling over 300 (!) on the weekend of Dec. 7-8. Further south there have been smaller yet impressive aggregations too. Fifteen were seen on the Brooklyn Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 14, for example.

    (Photo © Jeff Corcoran)

    4 Snowy Owls can be seen in this image from Montrose Beach in Chicago (Photo © Jeff Corcoran)

    Crows are often good indicators that there is an owl around. This one at Montrose Beach in Chicago, on Dec. 18 got a talking-to from a couple of crows. (Photo © Ken Koontz)

    Crows are often good indicators that there is an owl around. This one at Montrose Beach in Chicago, on Dec. 18 got a talking-to from a couple of crows. (Photo © Ken Koontz/KKoontz.com)

    Several folks have been lucky enough to host these birds on their property. Doesn’t hurt the ol’ yard list. The bird below was found by a teacher who heard a mob of crows and looked out the window to see the owl perched on a pole at the entrance to the school. It then flew to this house along a very busy road, where it sat for about an hour despite being very close to a lot of human activity.

    Rooftop Snowy in Chester county, PA (Photo © Dave Hucker)

    Rooftop Snowy in Chester county, PA (Photo © Dave Hucker)

    There have been a number of drive-by sightings of Snowies. They like prominent perches in open areas so it’s not all that uncommon to see them along large roadways. And you do have to be careful to keep your eyes on the road; rather than the uber-charismatic big white owl.

    This Snowy on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland has been seen by many a motorist the last week or so. (Photo © Liz Filter)

    This Snowy on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland has been seen by many a motorist the last week or so.
    (Photo © Liz Filter)

    Another shot of the Bay Bridge Snowy (Photo © Joe Turner)

    Another shot of the Bay Bridge Snowy (Photo © Joe Turner)

    In several places Peregrine Falcons have been seen dive-bombing owls. For the Snowies, probably it is not the first time they have encountered these speeding bullets, but who doesn’t look over-matched against a Peregrine?

    Snowy Owl vs. Peregrine Falcon – Cape May, New Jersey from Tom Johnson

    Another one from Montrose Beach in Chicago, taking a defensive posture against a diving Peregrine Falcon.

    Another one from Montrose Beach in Chicago, taking a defensive posture against a diving Peregrine Falcon.
    (Photo © Jeff Corcoran)

    This Snowy at Cape Point at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina also had a close encounter with a Peregrine.  (Photo © Jeff Lewis)

    This Snowy at Cape Point at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina also had a close encounter with a Peregrine. Snowies have been seen as far south as South Carolina this year.
    (Photo © Jeff Lewis)

    Hopefully many of you are getting the chance to see these birds. As always with owl invasions, we all need to remember to respect the birds by giving them space, and help other people to understand how to avoid stressing the owls. As we’ve seen, the owls are turning up in all sorts of places, and its a great opportunity for birders to help interpret nature for people not as experienced with it.

    SNOW ers photo_1x

    The ABA’s Director of Marketing & Parterships, Bill Stewart, set up his scope on a Snowy Owl in New Castle, DE and about forty 1st-graders from the Reach Academy for Girls lined up to see it on Dec. 19th.
    (Photo © Bill Stewart)

    A question: Have you ever heard a Snowy Owl? Despite being lucky enough to have seen several dozen Snowies, I’ve never ever heard one and so I still need it for my “heard list”. CLO’s recordist and videographer Gerrit Vyn has heard them, and recorded them! He is one of the keynote speaker at the ABA Convention in Corpus Christi in April 2014 and you can listen to some of his recordings of Snowy Owls at Cornell’s Macaulay Library.

     

    These Snowies have been seen taking rodents and some birds, and also doing some scavenging. The owl pictured here was scavenging a dead Common Loon at Presque Isle, PA.  (Photo Geoff © Malosh)

    These Snowies have been seen taking rodents and some birds, and also doing some scavenging. The owl pictured here was scavenging a dead Common Loon at Presque Isle, PA.
    (Photo © Geoff Malosh)

    For more insight into this 2013 Snowy Owl event, see the informative summary at eBird.

    Acknowledgements:
    Thanks to Keecha Chenjo, Jeff Corcoran, Liz Filter, Dan Haas, Dave Hucker, Tom Johnson, Ken Koontz, Jeff Lewis, Geoff Malosh, Ryan Schain, Leslie Starr, Joe Turner, and Phil Vivaldi for allowing use of their Snowy Owl imagery.

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    George Armistead

    George Armistead

    George Armistead is a lifelong birder and since April 2012 is the events coordinator for the ABA. George spent the prior decade organizing and leading birding tours for Field Guides Inc. He has guided trips on all seven continents, and enjoys vast open country habitats and seabirds most of all. Based in Philadelphia, he is an associate at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and spends much of his free time birding the coast between Cape May, NJ and Cape Hatteras, NC.
    Birders know well that the healthiest, most dynamic choruses contain many different voices. The birding community encompasses a wide variety of interests, talents, and convictions. All are welcome.
    If you like birding, we want to hear from you.
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