SUMMERSIDE – There have been more snowy owl sightings in Atlantic Canada this year than ever before.
Where a dedicated Island birdwatcher might normally see a dozen snowy owls in a season some have been seeing that many in a day.
Much to the delight of local birders.
There’s just something about catching a glimpse of a snowy owl that can stop a person in their tracks, said David Seeler, a birdwatcher and associate professor at the Atlantic Veterinary College.
“When somebody is driving along … when you see one of these things sitting on a fence pole or telephone post – I mean they’re just stunning birds,” said Seeler.
“I think it puts a smile on people’s faces.”
Snowy owls, with their striking black on white feathers, stand up to about 71 cm tall and have a wing-span of up to 150 cm.
While they are not endangered, they are rarely seen on P.E.I. Their home range is much farther north.
“In talking to some people who have tracked these kinds of things for decades, none of them have actually seen anything like this before. It’s just stunning,” said Seeler.
No one knows exactly why there are so many snowy owls this far south this year, however some birders have theorized that a food explosion in the north over the last couple of years, mainly the small mammal population, has led to more young owls surviving into adulthood.
As those owls have matured they’ve had to venture farther south to find less-crowded hunting grounds.
Dwaine Oakley, one of the instructors at the Wildlife Conservation Technology Program at Holland College, said the big jump in sightings came in November and December as the birds descended south.
However, he expects another bump in sightings in the near future as they return to the north in the spring.
“That is what we’d all love to see. It won’t take them too long either, like within the next month or two you’ll start to see some of those birds starting to make their way back,” said Oakley.
Anyone who’d like to see a snowy owl can maximize their chances by checking out flat areas with a lot of ground cover: anywhere that might resemble the Arctic tundra.
Oakley suggested bogs, airports and sand dunes are good lookout locations.
There are also forums online where local birders keep track of what’s been spotted where, he added, so anyone looking to see a snowy owl can could stand to do some research beforehand.