Snowy celebrity of sorts
by Kim and Cindy Risen | January 17, 2006
Last winter, Voyageur country experienced an influx of
winter owls of such magnitude that it may never be repeated in our lifetime.
Even though this winter, so far at least, we are not seeing those huge numbers
of Great Gray Owls, we still have some owls attracting attention to our area.
Last winter, Snowy Owls were not present in Aitkin or
Carlton Counties at all. This winter the most consistent Snowy Owl in the
northeastern part of the state is one found near Tamarack. In mid-December we
received a report of a Snowy Owl south of Tamarack. The owl was still there for
the Rice Lake Christmas Bird Count and participants lucky enough to find the
owl were thrilled to see this white denizen of the north.
Word got out to other birders through the internet and
since that time the Tamarack Snowy Owl has been receiving a lot of attention. A
Snowy Owl south of the town of Palisade, also in Aitkin County, is being seen
along 450th Street west of County Road 5. Photographers and birders eager to
find owls this winter have once again ventured to our area in search of them.
Everyone seems to be fascinated by owls. Seeing these
large showy birds is an unexpected treat for all who enjoy nature. The fact
that they’re usually hard to find makes a cooperative bird that dependably
sticks tight to an area a celebrity of sorts. Bird watchers from all around
will make the drive to see such birds. This Snowy Owl is one of those celebrity
This past weekend alone there were people here to see the
owl from Tennessee, New Jersey, Arizona, Wisconsin, Virginia, California and
from around the state of Minnesota. The group ranged from interested bird
watchers to serious photographers.
Snowy Owls are rather large owls, the second largest in
North America by weight. The adults are mostly white in coloration, males more
so than females. Immature birds have prominent black crescents on the tips of
their feathers giving those birds under-parts that appear heavily barred with
No matter their age or sex, Snowy Owls have brilliant
yellow eyes. Snowy Owls can be found nesting in the far north; the tundra of
Canada and Alaska. They range into the northern United States only in winter.
It is not unusual for Snowy Owls to show up here in northern Minnesota and some
years several can be found hanging around open fields searching for food.
They seem to like areas with large expanses of open snow;
it probably looks more like home to them. Because they are not birds of the
woodlands, they are most likely found in open fields. However, being white
birds that like to roost on the ground, spotting one in a snow-covered field
may not be as easy as it sounds. Luckily for us, they also like to perch on
power poles during the daylight hours. Another place to look for them is atop
hay bales and mounds of snow covered dirt. Mice and voles make up the majority
of their diet. Snowy Owls are daylight hunters, which makes them easier to find
than owls which are strictly nocturnal.
Snowy Owls usually can be found in the Duluth/Superior
area hanging around the harbor during the winter months, sitting on the ice or
one of the buildings in the grain loading areas waiting for mice to eat. While
there have been Snowy Owls seen at the airport in Minneapolis, and in other
parts of the state, they are fairly few and far between. This winter there do
not seem to be too many Snowy Owls around, so our local bird is getting plenty
While the experience of finding an owl on every post in
sight may not happen again, the thrill of finding one of these magnificent
birds keeps us searching the roadsides and fields. Birding is just a matter of
having fun and enjoying the anticipation of what may show up around the next
This article first appeared in the January 17 issue of
the Voyageur Press.