Thursday, December 22, 2011

Snowy Owls in Missouri?

The large and powerful snowy owl is best known in its Arctic tundra summer home of northern Alaska, Canada, and Eurasia. Like all snowy owls, North American birds are nomadic and usually migrate as far south as southern Canada each winter in search of food. However, during the annual Christmas Bird Count this year participants have counted over a dozen snowy owls in Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa; an incredibly high number so far south.
Snowy Owl at Smithville Lake 12/2011. Courtesy Missouri Dept. of Conservation
Being as we at the Jungle Store are located in the Kansas City area, this is exciting news for local birdwatchers. Seeing a single snowy owl wintering this far south is extremely rare, and this year alone three have already been spotted in the Smithville Lake area just north of Kansas City.

As carnivores, snowy owls tend to move whenever food becomes scarce. Their primary food source in the Arctic is the lemming, an animal that is notorious for experiencing huge population booms and declines every four years. Missouri conservationists believe that this southward migration has to do with a lemming population crash in the north, as snowy owls haven’t been seen in this area in several years.
Although they’re not native residents, it is a treat to catch a glimpse of these massive owls in our own backyards for a short while.

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