Monday, December 5, 2011

Snowy Owl near Indianapolis

This weekend, many people were treated to looks at a true rarity to this area and a gorgeous creature, to boot, --a Snowy Owl! Those of you who are Harry Potter fans may be familiar with his owl, Hedwig. Hedwig is a Snowy Owl.

The owl had been spotted at the Indianapolis Regional Airport in Mount Comfort, formally known as the Mount Comfort Airport. Don Gorney and other birders kept tabs on the bird all weekend. Eric Martin and I were able to drive out there Sunday afternoon to take a peek. My photo above was taken with a point and shoot camera through a car windshield in the rain. The plastic-bag-like-object is the owl. :) It is hunkered down on the ground taking cover from the rain. Even though it wasn't super close, we were still delighted to watch it turn its head while it checked out the coming and goings of the people who came to visit it.

My friend, Don Gorney, was able to snap a better photo on the previous day, Saturday. Thanks to Don for letting me use his stellar photo. With the light barring on the feathers and the pattern on the tail feathers, Don thinks this is an after-hatch year male. Younger birds and females would have darker spots on their feathers. For a photo of a juvenile bird, check out my post from a few years ago of a Snowy Owl I saw in Cleveland, OH.

To see a Snowy Owl brings up mixed emotions. It is such a graceful flyer, floating effortless along as it hunts. But, most Snowy Owls that visit Indiana in the winter do not make it. Many times these owls get hit by cars and trucks as they are sailing across the highway, looking for a meal. Snowy Owls glide very low along the ground, as they search for food, and this puts them right smack in the path of a vehicle.

The Snowy Owl's normal range is in the arctic tundra, throughout Canada and the Northern United States.  Snowy Owls have a favorite snack of lemmings. Lemmings are cyclic in nature. Lemming populations will grow in number year after year and the predators, such as owls and fox will increase along with them. Eventually, they will hit a population threshold and the predators will apply too much pressure on the lemming population. The lemming population will plummet and the abundant predators will be forced to look for food elsewhere. The Snowy Owl will move southward looking for other food. These cycles seem to occur about every three or four years. A combo of a good breeding season, producing many juvenile owls, and a possible crash in the lemming population up north may force many Snowy Owls to the south.

If a Snowy Owl finds a good food source, and doesn't meet an early demise from a vehicle, it will tend to stick around for quite a while. As of today, the Snowy Owl was still at the airport. Hopefully, many of you will have a chance to view this gorgeous winter visitor!