About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Snowy Owls sighted in Michigan

Snowy Owls are yearly visitors to Michigan, but their numbers can fluctuate quite dramatically. In 2011 the lemming and vole populations were very high in the north resulting in a high survival rate of Snowy Owls. So this fall/winter, many first year males seem to be venturing south in search of food. The weird snow hurricanes in Alaska and bitter cold weather in Canada also may be a factor for the increase in Snowy Owl sightings further south.

The Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) is a large, yellow-eyed, black billed white bird that is recognized easily. It is about 2 feet tall with a 4–5 foot wingspan and can weigh over 6 pounds. The adult males are very white, while the females and young birds have some dark scalloping on their feathers. Their heavily-feathered taloned feet, thick feathers and coloration make the Snowy Owl well-adapted for life north of the Arctic Circle in temperatures as low as 40° F below zero.

If you see one perched on a telephone pole or on your roof during the day, that’s OK, Snowies are diurnal. This means unlike other owls; the snowy owls are active and hunt during the day as well as the night. Snowy owls can hear the pitter patter of prey beneath 10 inches of snow. They feed primarily on lemmings in the Arctic tundra during the breeding season and eat other rodents, fish and some birds during the winter.

Snowy owls are monogamous generally but can choose a new mate each season. Their courtship behavior begins in midwinter until March or April. The males try to attract females by flying in an undulating manner sometimes with prey in their mouth. Then on the ground the male turns his back to the female, fluffs up his feathers, spreads his tail feathers to impress the females. If this is not enough, the males also kill and display prey to the females. 

After a mate is chosen the female scrapes a shallow nest in the ground. Every 2 days the she lays an egg. The average clutch is 3 to 11 white eggs, depending on prey availability. Males often “hoot” to defend their territory. They also make many other calls, including a “rick, rick, rick”, a “kre kre kre”, a mewing and a hiss. These calls are often used by an adult that is defending a nest.

After about a month of incubation, one chick covered in snowy white down, hatches about every two days. Both parents feed and protect the chicks for 5 to 7 weeks until they are able to hunt for themselves. 

Once nesting is complete they do not remain in pairs but become solitary and territorial. The average lifespan of these magnificent birds is 10.8 years.

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I may have seen a snowy owl flying over a farm field north of Holt road while driving towards Lansing. It was BIG and mostly white. Has anyone else spotted one?

Anonymous said...

You guys are so lucky! I am in Oregon and we had them here last year but I only got to see one. We have NONE this year! Happy Birding Michiganders!! From a former Michigander! :D