Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owls aren’t unknown in Wisconsin…only unusual.

This Snowy Owl probably knew she stood out against the black wall of the North Pier.  A half-mile out from Sheboygan's Harbor Centre Marina, she was alone until I came out to see her.

For me, approaching a Snowy Owl was exciting and challenging.  I didn’t want to scare her, stress her, or lose her, but I needed her picture…close, but not too close.  I worried close and too close meant something different to each of us.

The snowy alternately switched between staring at me and ignoring me, in equal measure.  The staring  made me feel I might be bothering her, but she may have just felt exposed.

Slowly inching away from me with her feather skirt dragging, she decided to fly away.

Taking to the air, she circled around behind me, but the spot she chose to land offered no better camouflage than before…off she went again.

There was a big ‘irruption’ of Snowy Owls in 2011/12, forcing Snowy Owls out of the Arctic Circle with some coming to Wisconsin.  That delighted the birders who saw them, but I missed them.

She landed on one of the huge limestone rocks outlining the marina. Now camouflaged by rocks that match her feathers, she sat nearly motionless...observing for hours.   An occasional ‘hiss’ towards threatening seagulls discouraged them from getting closer.

She showed no concern for my presence though, often looking away for long periods of time. Only occasionally she’d glance backwards, her head swiveling like a doll’s, to see if I was still there.

This Snowy Owl is most likely a juvenile female, as juvenile males are somewhat whiter and adult Snowy Owls are almost entirely white. Now old enough to be on her own, she was likely driven out of her parent’s Arctic Circle territory to establish her own.

Snowy Owls have huge home territories, so finding a place to call her own may have brought her all the way to Sheboygan.  Sheboygan may be nice, but it is not ideal for a Snowy Owl.

In the Arctic, Snowy Owls live on lemmings, swallowing them whole, head-first, up to sixteen hundred a year, according to some studies.  Lemmings are limited in Sheboygan so she’ll need to substitute mice, voles and other small mammals to survive.

Owls hunt at night, but above the Arctic Circle it’s 24-hours of daylight in summer, so they must hunt in the daytime too. I don’t know when or where she hunts or what she is surviving on.  I didn’t see her hunt or eat anything, but she looks well nourished…something is keeping her beautiful, cat-like, yellow eyes so bright.