Burst of snowy owls heading back north


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A flurry of snowy owls has been seen across West Michigan this winter and as the days get longer, the owls are being called by instinct back to the north.

Reports of snowy owls have been much more prevalent this year and were expected by scientists. On Thursday, one was seen keeping watch over the WOOD TV studios from its perch next door at a construction site.

Snowy owls will frequently look for wide-open spaces or spots that resemble the arctic tundra. One snowy owl was frequently spotted and photographed near the wastewater treatment plant in Muskegon this winter. Airports are another frequent hot spot for the creature.

Many of the snowy owl pictures show the birds soaking up the sunshine.

“Snowy owls are like little sunflowers, they will turn their faces to follow the sun,” said Scott Weidensaul, a nationally renowned writer who works closely with snowy owl research.

Those with black spots are female and all-white owls are male.

Snowy owl population is closely linked with the lemming population in the Arctic Circle each summer. About every four years, there are big booms in the lemming population. These extra rodents usually lead to fat, happy owls and a boost in population the following spring. It’s usually young owls that make the trek south for the winter, meaning many of the ones seen along the Great Lakes are likely quite young.

Weidensaul is involved with Project SNOWstorm, a program that has helped raise money for independent snowy owl research. Last fall, Weidensaul said the team of scientists he was working with were expecting a big boom in snowy owl populations and migrations this year. Surges in snowy owl migrations are called “irruptions.”

The owls that traveled south during this season’s irruption are now getting ready to head back to the Arctic Circle for the coming summer, so watch for sightings of the birds over the next few weeks.

The last big irruption was in 2013-2014. They can happen roughly every four years. The irruption we saw this year was not as big as the one in 2013-2014.

Project SNOWstorm has made huge leaps in understanding these mysterious and beautiful animals.To help its progress, visit its website.

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