A life bird for me – the Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Last week, I was in Vancouver, Canada, visiting my family. My sister mentioned that Snowy Owls had been sighted near Boundary Bay, about 20 miles south of Vancouver, so we went out to see them. For those of you who are Harry Potter fans, Harry’s owl Hedwig is a Snowy Owl.
Snowy Owls breed on the Arctic Tundra, and typically winter there. They nest on the ground, and fiercely defend their nests from predators, even wolves. Snow Geese, which sometimes nest near on the ground near the Snowy Owl, appear to derive some protection from predators because of the presence of the Snowy Owls.
The Snowy Owl’s primary food source is lemmings, but they also eat mice, voles, ducks, hares and fish. A Snowy Owl can eat 1600 lemmings in a year. They have been known to follow traplines in the north, eating the animals that are caught in the traps. They swallow small prey whole, and their strong stomach juices digest the flesh. Bones, teeth, fur, etc., which are not able to be digested, are regurgitated in pellet form 18 to 24 hours after feeding. Every few years, Snowy Owls fly south in large numbers in what is known as an irruption, possibly when Arctic food sources are scarce.
Unlike most other owls, they are easy to spot. For one thing, they don’t roost in trees, preferring to perch on logs in the open. Secondly, they are diurnal, so are seen during the day. Plus, they are stunning white birds with yellow eyes, about 2 feet tall, with a 5 foot wingspan.
There were hundreds of people watching the owls. I enjoyed being with so many other nature lovers, most of whom were respectful and well-behaved. But there are always a couple of jerks who feel that getting a good picture is so important that it is acceptable to get too close and harass the birds. It was refreshing to see people telling off these idiots.
In a two hour period, I saw more owls (30) than I’ve seen in the rest of my life. It was a wonderful nature experience to start out the year.