Indiana Audubon Society is alerting owl fans of a historic invasion of the all-white, snowy owl that is taking place in Indiana right now. The usually absent arctic owl only visits Indiana during cyclical “irruptions” occurring every four to five years. Early reports from around the state indicate that large numbers of snowy owls are flocking in from the far north. Over 25 snowy owls have already been reported since late fall, while December remains the best month to find these rare visitors around the Hoosier state.
Snowy owl numbers fluctuate year to year based on their primary prey, lemmings, giant mouse like rodents whose population also oscillates based on food supplies and weather conditions in the arctic. When populations spike, the owls respond with higher than normal breeding, with some nests containing ten or more eggs. The subsequent invasions later that fall result in not so much a food scarcity, but because of the abundance of food earlier that summer. Young owls tend to leave the arctic each winter, resulting in the larger than normal invasion occurring now.
Sightings this fall have concentrated in the northwest Indiana area, particularly along Lake Michigan, but other snowy owls have been as far south as Hancock County. Shoppers this past weekend were treated to a snowy owl perched on top of a Wal-Mart in South Bend.
“The next month or two should shape up to be a great time for those wishing to see Hedwig in the feathers,” said Brad Bumgardner, executive director for the Indiana Audubon. “Bird watching Facebook pages and the Cornell Lab’s eBird.com are a couple of the best places to seek out current sightings. However, it’s important to remember that these birds are out of their element and observers should keep their distance, as to not stress these already weary, winter travelers.
A few snowy owls are indeed suffering from lack of food and dangers not found in the arctic. If an owl is found that appears to be injured, steps can be taken to help the bird, including calling a local wildlife rehabber. Stephanie Kadletz, director of the Humane Indiana Wildlife Rehabilitation Center advises observers to call the Indiana DNR dispatch at (812) 837-9536 should you find a sick or injured owl. The Humane Indiana Wildlife Rehabilitation Center has already received two snowy owls that have been injured due to vehicle strikes.
“It costs approximately $10 per day or $300 per month to rehabilitate an injured snowy owl,” says Kadletz. “They will eat up to 6 mice per day which is 180 mice per month.” Donations to www.humaneindiana.org/wildlife help to care for injured owls and other wildlife.
To learn more about the Indiana Audubon Society and to search for programs and field trips near you, visit them on the web at www.indianaaudubon.org.