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!



Anonymous said...

How can I find out if the owl is still at the airport as of Tuesday night? Would love to take the kids out to see it on Wednesday. Where do we go once at the airport?

Janet Creamer said...

The owl was seen today( Wed) between the fire station and the blue maintenance barn. This area is right inside the entrance off of 600 W. The owl usually is around in this area or nearby. Another place to find an update on the owl is the IN-bird listserv. Birders post their observations there.

Kenn Kaufman said...

Thanks for the great discussion of Snowy Owl behavior and migration! I hope that this bird will survive its southern sojourn and that many people will have a chance to enjoy seeing it.

Janet Creamer said...

Thanks, Kenn! Thank you for the kind comments. You are always so encouraging to other birders and naturalists! Hopefully I will see you and Kim sometime soon.

Anonymous said...

Two weeks ago while driving north of Montpelier Indiana my wife and I saw a large white bird which we now presume to be a Snowy Owl glide across the road in front us. I was almost certain it was an owl from the shape but in my 63 years had never seen one like this. This morning as my wife drove to work near Muncie Indiana along the same road but about 12 south of the first spotting she saw a white owl perched on a telephone pole and called me at home. I did some research and believe we have either seen two birds or the same bird twice. Either way it was great to see. We also have an Osprey visit a pond along side our house a few times a year. Really cool to watch it dive into the water for a fish.