This time of year we are occasionally visited by an owl that calls the Arctic its home. Lemming populations explode in some summers. When they do, Snowy Owls (photo by David Syzdek) are able to produce large numbers of owlets. When these youngsters leave the nest, they must find their own territories. The first winter can be challenging for all young birds and Snowy Owls are no exception. In years when snowy owl populations explode, we are sometimes lucky enough to be visited by these large white owls. In fact, in exceptional years, they have wandered as far south as Georgia.

Older Snowy Owls are the whitest. Younger birds often have black tips on many feathers giving them a speckled appearance. These owls are the largest and heaviest owls in North America. Females, like most birds of prey, are larger than the males. Lemmings and voles are their preferred prey during nesting season. When they visit this far south, they are known to also prey on a wide variety of ducks, sea and shore birds.

Snowy Owls are creatures of the Arctic tundra. When they come south, they look for similar terrain. Airports, coastal plains and large fields are the places where these birds are most likely to be found. Last winter, while down in Massachusetts, I spotted one of these owls perched on a buoy on the frozen Mystic River in Medford, MA. It was exciting to see, but it seemed somewhat less majestic, even a little forlorn, surrounded by the hub-bub of the city.

Snowies are rare visitors to Oxford County. The mountains are not their preferred terrain. However, they have been reported in our area in recent years. In 2017, one was seen in fields in the Fryeburg area. But, they are more likely to be reported in the Portland area. Children might enjoy reading the book A Snowy Owl Story, by Melissa Kim. It tells the story of a Snowy that ended up in the attic of a building in downtown Portland a few years ago. I will keep you posted if they are spotted this winter. When they are around, it is definitely worth a trip to see this impressive visitor from the north.

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit us Valentine Farm, 162 North Road Bethel, ME or at www.mahoosuc.org. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James send your emails to [email protected]

Snowy Owl. David Syzdek


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