Sunday, February 12, 2012

Snowy Owls: An Irruption of Owls in Saskatchewan

Snowy Owl in Saskatchewan - photo by Shelley Banks
Snowy Owl along Highway 11. I love the feather ruff 
around his eyes...  (Yes, a bird so white is male.)
Bird B, on Prairie Nature © SB.
I don't understand migration. I like to think birds such as snowy owls follow inner maps, invisible energy lines that lure them north and south. But I can't visualize that.

Instead of trying, I'll watch the snowy owls, now wintering in Saskatchewan.


For many people, Saskatchewan must seem the deep and snowy north.

(When I was a student flying from the West Indies each August, Americans asked: 1: Where's your parka? 2: Do you live in houses? 3: Will I be cold? Responses: 1: It's summer; 2: Are you kidding? 3: Depends on your air conditioning... And that was en route to Toronto!)

But to some birds, including these Arctic snowy owls, Saskatchewan is the south. And this year, we're apparently benefiting from "large scale, periodic migrations known as irruptions".

An Irruption of Owls.

I like that.

Snowy Owl - photo by Shelley Banks
Wingspan, belly and huge feet of Snowy Owl
Bird A on Prairie Nature 
© SB 

Snowy owls summer and nest in the Arctic, then fly south to winter in sunny resorts (um, make that fields near Lumsden and Regina, Saskatchewan).

After hearing about them from a work colleague and reading the UofR story, I went looking for snowy owls near Regina this weekend. I didn't have to go far — I saw two the first time out, and three the next day. Three were along Highway 11, near the turn off to the Condie Nature Refuge, and two were along Highway 734, just south of Lumsden. (More pictures of those five owls are on my Prairie Nature blog.)

Feel the wind under their wings, the journey, the distance, the quest.

The magic of migration.
Snowy Owl - photo by Shelley Banks
Wingspan and back markings of  Snowy Owl 
Bird A on Prairie Nature © SB 

"Snowy Owls Make Rare Mass Migration", says the story linked above, from Reuters, via According to it, "Thousands of the snow-white birds, which stand 2 feet tall with 5-foot wingspans, have been spotted from (US) coast to coast, feeding in farmlands in Idaho, roosting on rooftops in Montana, gliding over golf courses in Missouri and soaring over shorelines in Massachusetts." 

For a local angle, see: "Snowy Owls Flocking to Saskatchewan in Record Numbers," from the J-school at the University of Regina.

If you're looking for snowy owls (and you're lucky enough to live in Saskatchewan), drive out of the city and watch for power and telephone poles. If you're lucky, from the distance you'll see a white blob at the top  of one that will coalesce to the shape of an owl as you approach. The snowy owls I saw were far less skittish than hawks; each watched me for several minutes before deciding to lurch up and fly


Note: These pictures will open larger when left-clicked. You can zoom in or see slightly larger versions of most by right-clicking the opened versions, then clicking "open image in new tab" and going to that tab.  


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