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Bird-Watchers Revel in Unusual Spike in Snowy Owl Sightings

Monday, January 23, 2012

HELENA, Mont. — From bank to bank beyond the arctic United States, a arresting cardinal of albino owls accept been aerial assimilate shorelines and aerial over fields this winter, delighting bird-watchers and alive belief about the account of the spike.

The white, two-foot-tall birds, which alive in the Arctic the blow of the year, are accepted to fly south in ample numbers every few winters in what is accepted as an irruption. But this year, the numbers are almighty high, said Denver Holt, administrator of the Owl Research Institute in Charlo, Mont.

Foto: David Patton/Albany Democrat-Herald,
via Associated Press
“There are so abounding beyond the country, everywhere, by the thousands,” Mr. Holt said. “It’s unbelievable. They are actuality apparent from Boston, to the Great Lakes, the Ohio River Valley, Kansas, Vancouver and Seattle.”

“One showed up at the airport in Hawaii, and they attempt it,” he added in astonishment. “It’s the aboriginal anytime in Hawaii and they attempt it!”

The owl was asleep on Thanksgiving by federal admiral who feared that the bird would baffle with landings and takeoffs.

Why so abounding added of the birds are assuming up is abundantly a mystery, Mr. Holt said. “We do apperceive they had a absolutely acceptable ancestry year, and there was affluence of aliment aftermost year,” he said. Instead of no chicks, or one or two, a distinct backup will aftermath five, six, seven or added fledglings in a acceptable ancestry year, he said.

The owls’ Arctic diet is 90 percent lemmings, although the birds, which are able hunters, additionally eat mice, voles, ducks, hares and akin angle back they drift south. Some ornithologists brainstorm that lemming populations comatose afresh afterwards a boom, which could accept led to the advance south, but advisers accept not accepted such a decline.

The advance started in backward abatement and is accepted to end by March or April. In few places are bodies as aflame as in Kansas and Missouri, area albino owls are awfully rare. Ninety accept apparent up in Kansas this winter and 40 in Missouri. Until this year, the accomplished cardinal counted in Missouri had been eight.

“It’s a massive movement,” said Mark Robbins, the ornithology accumulating administrator at the University of Kansas.

When bristles of the birds took up address at Smithville Lake, abreast Kansas City, Mo., it created an “owl jam,” Mr. Robbins said. Bags of bodies accept apprenticed there to see them, he said, and hundreds of owl seekers accept apparent up at Clinton Lake abreast Lawrence, Kan.

Unlike abounding owls, the albino array are diurnal, or alive during the day, which accounts for some of the hubbub. Their blinding white coloring, sometimes with amber barring, and acute chicken eyes are a allurement for birders and nonbirders alike.

Adding to the attraction for children, the owls are of the aforementioned breed as Hedwig, the affectionate accompaniment of the fabulous astrologer Harry Potter, which asleep arresting him in the final book of the series.

Geoff LeBaron, administrator of the Audubon Society’s Christmas bird count, said that it was adamantine to appraisal how abounding albino owls flew south in this advance because the best recent abstracts has not been tallied, but that the all-embracing cardinal was apparently a few thousand. Despite the surge, the association says, albino owls are anticipation to accept been in abatement back 1945.

There is far added abstracts on the ambit of this clearing than in years past, acknowledgment to a aborigine science activity based at Cornell alleged eBird, which is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society. Bird-watchers about the country alarm in sightings, which are advised on a map that shows absolutely area the birds are wintering.

“A lot of bodies who accept never apparent one afore accept rushed out and apparent multiples,” said Marshall Iliff, an ornithologist at Cornell and the project’s leader. “And photographers are accepting a acreage day.”

Additional hot spots accommodate the aperture of the Columbia River in Washington State, with 10 to 13 birds; 20 at Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota, and 30 in Boundary Bay, abreast Vancouver in British Columbia.

The owls are akin assuming up in burghal and burghal areas, forth highways, on signs and fence posts, and in added places area bodies can added calmly atom them. It has been a acceptable albino owl year at Logan Airport in Boston, too. Because the aerodrome looks like tundra, albino owls tend to army there, and they charge be trapped and removed.

“We’ve removed 21 so far this year, and the boilerplate is six,” said Norman Smith, who works for the Massachusetts Audubon Association and accessories the birds. The best anytime trapped was 43 in 1986, Mr. Smith said, “but the year’s not over.”

Mr. Holt, who has journeyed to the Arctic arctic to abstraction albino owls and their aliment and nesting habits for the aftermost 20 years and is one of world’s arch experts on the bird, said he had apparent no affirmation that the owls, best of them young, are stressed. “They are not all actuality craving to death,” he said. “The birds arise to be in acceptable concrete condition.”

But Mr. Robbins said he had apparent some affirmation to the contrary. Of bristles asleep birds he advised — three hit by cars, one hit by a alternation and one that was electrocuted — there was “no question” that “some of these birds are craving to death,” he said, apparently because they accept been clumsy to acquisition abundant food.

Whatever the causes of the irruption, owl watchers are authoritative the best of what they doubtable may be a different opportunity.

Mr. Holt suggests that the draw of the albino owls may be partly a allure with the birds’ coloring. “White wolves, arctic bears, white whales, white addle — there is article about white bunch that signifies chastity or purity,” he said. “People don’t army to see any added beastly the way they do white ones.”

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