Snowy Owls in Birdwatch

Photo: David Syzdek, via wikimedia commons
Photo: David Syzdek, via wikimedia commons

I’ve never seen a Snowy Owl. I’d really like to see one. Even more would I like to see loads of them. And there have been loads and loads of them further south than usual in North America this winter.

The latest Birdwatch has an article on Snowy Owls and a beautiful male on the cover.

Have a look at my column, the political birder, once you’ve seen the gorgeous Snowy Owls. It’s about Scottish independence and raptor persecution on both sides of the border.

But a Snowy Owl can come and perch on the roof of my house (like the one below in New Hampshire) any time it likes.

Photo: Jim Richmond via wikimedia commons
Photo: Jim Richmond via wikimedia commons
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8 Replies to “Snowy Owls in Birdwatch”

  1. Whilst talking about raptor persecution did you know back in America I could legally go and capture that wild owl and legally keep it as a "domestic" bird.

  2. Yes Mark,would like to have one on my roof also.
    The colouring reminded me of when we visited the Hawk Conservancy near Andover,the owner was a lovely person helping children with all sorts of things and as it was a trust he was told they wanted him to take in birds that were found coming into country illegally at ports.He thought this was an extra burden I think until the first bird was a Gyr Falcon coloured similar to Snowy Owl.
    When we visited he was just starting giving demonstrations with it and getting it fit.
    What a lucky bird as if flown regularly think these birds live a reasonable life and I am not sure are really capable of existing in the wild for any length of time.

    1. Dennis,
      I worked very closely with the HCT and also the a few other raptor centres, huge amount of attention paid to living conditions, health conditions of the actual birds, education facilities, setting up of a "young" members (getting young people interested in wildlife), but most importantly stamping out of trade of illegal and legal sourced birds but a few points must be raised.
      To keep a b.o.p for falconry some (not all) will starve the bird and keep the weight of the bird under the miniu, weight, this in turn encourages the bird to perform in displays. After a certain point a bird WILL start to revert back to a "wild" state of mind, this is when a bird normally refuses to flyback to the owners hand, the usual treatment when this happens will be to force the bird to live in isolation and not flown for periods up to three months and minimal food given, this is done to encourage dependency on the human master, many private individuals and smaller falconry centres encourage this practise.
      It is true many birds in captivity live a longer and lets face it a safer life free from persecution many reputable centres even take part in collecting valuable data such as DNA and provide very good education not to just kids but also to those who wish to harm and also in one falconry centre was helping with conservation of species such as Barn Owls, however good these centres are individuals aren't closely watched and there is an increase of theft of wild birds in this country (in my own country it's legal to take certain species), as for how long a "tame" bird can live in the wild there is a Harris Hawk that so far has survived in the wild for five years in Oxfordshire, funnily near the Benson area where Mark was recently.

  3. In the USA this winter, many people, professionals and amateurs, have mobilised themselves in Project SNOWstorm to try to find out more about their unprecedented irruption of Snowy Owls. At least 15 owls have been trapped and fitted with mobile-phone transmitters, recording their coordinates and altitude, tracking their movements and behaviour in incredible detail.

    The maps and commentary on the website ( show that some individuals have stayed within a small area for several months while others have ranged far and wide, including some with a worrying tendency to visit the wide-open areas of airports, at least one with fatal results (to the owl). Several owls have spent a lot of time offshore at night, apparently puzzling behaviour until we realise they have been following flocks of waterfowl: a duck must provide a lot more sustenance than a mouse! The resolution of the data is such that you can see which buoy the bird is perching on, although some of the owls have been sitting on the ice in the frozen Great Lakes, usually near to the creeks of open water where the waterfowl are.

    The solar-powered transmitters report their data via the cellular phone network. The devices should last for years so the team ought to be able to discover where the Snowy Owls return north to breed. Although the breeding sites are likely to be out of range of the mobile phone network, the transmitters can store up to 100,000 locations, then transmit that information — even years later — when the bird flies within cell coverage. This technology has previously been used on boreal-breeding Golden Eagles, the birds losing signal for months then 'checking-in' with all their data when they fly south again.

    Anyone can sign up for the free e-mail updates from Project SNOWstorm, and further donations to support the project are welcome. Amazing stuff!

  4. Snowy owl is quite a bird for me as I saw one on my last day working with the RSPB on my way to the Lodge via Lincolnshire for a meeting to say good by. I have also seen a female on Cairngorm flying passed a Reindeer! 1 in Iceland and 3 in new England on the Merrymack River. It used to be a dream tick but some how I don't dream of many birds these days may be as I don't have a wish list. Just love everything about the natural world!

  5. G B,as in all things there are good and bad,for sure the place near Andover does lots of conservancy work and everything they did was above reproach,in general I was referring to them as others I had seen were a poor example.
    I could not imagine them doing anything that was not in the birds best interests and obviously some escapees have lived long lives in the wild but there are probably lots that would not survive long.


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