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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Snowy Owls Make One of Largest Observed Migrations to United States

Large, fluffy, and white as snow, Snowy Owls are usually found in their natural habitats in the Arctic, rarely seen migrating south of the Great Lakes. However, they’ve recently been seen swooping in great numbers down the eastern United States, with one bird expert saying they’ve never seen a migration this huge in the last 50 years. In fact, these winter-loving owls have been spotted as far south as the Carolinas, Missouri, even Bermuda.

Bird expert Kevin McGowan of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University notes that a southern migration of snowy owls is called an irruption, with the recent event being the largest of its kind in recent history.

Harry Potter fame

Snowy owls are perhaps most famous thanks to Hedwig, Harry Potter’s messenger owl on the eponymous series of books and films. These majestic birds are not hard to miss, standing magnificently at 3-feet tall, with a wingspan of 5-feet. Their white plumage serves as camouflage in the Arctic Circle, where they’ve adapted to live and spend harsh winters in.

Reason for large numbers down south

So why are these owls migrating in such large numbers to the eastern
United States? Winter migrations naturally occur due to shortages of food, usually rodents like lemmings, in the north. Nobody can quite explain why there’s such a huge migration this year. Theories range from a crash in lemming populations up north, to more snow covering the ground making hunting difficult, to a speculated boom in Snowy Owl populations.

The full story on Discovery News.

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