Friday, December 13, 2013

Snowy Owls in Delaware

Snowy owls have appeared in Delaware recently.

Snowy owls range from nearly all white (adult males) to white with many dark bars across the forehead, breast and belly (juvenile female), and have a distinctive black beak. Adult females and juvenile males display a mixed coloration. Snowy owls have a wingspan of up to 5 feet. Males are smaller than the females.

Typically, snowy owls prey on small rodents called lemmings, which are known for their drastic population fluctuations.

When lemming populations fluctuate, snowy owls may irrupt, or disperse widely, in order to find alternative food sources.

Snowy owl irruptions may also occur when high lemming populations enable snowy owls to produce large broods that are unsupportable locally.

In either event, this year, snowy owls appear to be dispersing well beyond their normal range.

Snowy owls in Delaware are not unheard of, according to DNREC Division of Fish & Wildlife biologist Anthony Gonzon: "In any given year, one or two owls may show up throughout the course of the entire winter. For example, a single snowy owl was observed in late 2012 near Rehoboth Beach, but it remained here only for a short time.

"This year, however, is quickly shaping up to be extraordinary and unprecedented,” Gonzon said. "Over the course of six days surrounding Thanksgiving, at least six snowy owls have been sighted, providing Delawareans a great opportunity to share in this phenomenon."

In particular, the owls seen along Delaware Seashore State Park have remained in the same general area since being first observed on Friday, Nov. 29, providing hundreds of visitors from Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey many opportunities to see and photograph them.

Snowy owls have also been spotted along Route 9 near Port Penn, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge near Smyrna, Port Mahon Road near Little Creek, and Cape Henlopen State Park.

source: Delaware, DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife