Snowy Owls In Massachusetts | A Closer Look at This Winged Winter Visitor
A mysterious hunter, symbol of wisdom, and faithful companion to Harry Potter, owls have long been a subject of fascination for ornithologists and lay persons alike.
Perhaps it’s their size, nocturnal nature, or hunting prowess that makes them so interesting.
Regardless of the reason, the fascination with owls is certainly long-standing. Even the ancient Greeks held owls in high regard. According to myth, Athena, goddess of wisdom, kept a trusty owl on her blind side so that she could see the whole truth when others could not.
If you live on the Massachusetts north shore you know that one of the most exciting transient residents is the Snowy Owl. In this article we will take a closer look at Snowy Owls in Massachusetts and learn more about its biology, nesting, and mating habits.
The snowy owl is the largest of the North American owls. Arctic dwellers, “Snowies” as they are generally known to birders, are about 2 to 2.5 feet tall and have an impressive wingspan of about 54” to 66.” By contrast, a red-tailed hawk wingspan is generally about 40” to 54.”
You will know a snowy when you see one. The owls are easy to distinguish because they are the only species of white owl in existence.
Snowies are covered in a thick layer of white feathers to provide them the perfect camouflage and insulation from the arctic cold. They even have feathery insulation over their talons that looks like little fluffy slippers. Take a peek here, it’s adorable.
This thick protective layer of feathers makes the Snowy Owl the heaviest North American owl, weighing in around 4 – 6.5lbs. Leaving the Great Horned Owl a distant second at around 3lbs.
The snow-white feathers of the snow owl are made all the more striking by their piercing yellow eyes that allow the snowy to see great distances. Owls eyes are actually so big that they can account for about 3% of the animals’ overall body weight!
Although owls are known for their great vision, they actually cannot move their eyeballs like humans. That is because their eyes are shaped liked tubes and held in place by bones known as sclerotic rings.
In order to fix their gaze upon potential prey or predators, owls actually turn their heads and not their eyes. But, their heads can rotate an incredible 270 degrees in each direction essentially giving the owl the ability to see in all directions. They are like the Larry Bird of the avian kingdom, no wonder there are so many Snowy Owls in Massachusetts.
As with many bird species, it’s fairly easy to distinguish between a male and a female as well. The male snowy owl is primarily pure white with a few dark brown spots. The female snowy owl is larger than the male owl and has dark brown barring or stripes on her body and a face that is always pure white.
Nesting duties fall on the female owl. It is said that the male owl chooses the nesting territory, while the female chooses the location within that territory. The female owl will dig out a small nest on the ground and lay about 3-11 eggs. The owls will often reuse nesting sites for many years.
The male snowy owls perform the hunting duties. They prefer flat plains-like areas and perform most of their hunting from the ground or near it on short stumps and fence posts.
The favorite prey for the snowy owl are lemmings. The populations and migratory patterns of the owls can shift depending on the availability of the prey. For example, in 2013 there was a large lemming population in the arctic which lead to a significant number of owlet hatchings.
These owlets poured into the US and were spotted as far south as Virginia, Alabama and Florida! 2013 proved to an important year in snowy owl research and many tracking devices were placed on captured owls that have shown their impressive migratory patterns.
In addition to lemmings, Snowy Owls have also been known to feed on rodents, ptarmigan, rabbit, hare, squirrels and even ducks and geese. Snowies are one of the most agile of the owls and have even been spotted capturing small birds in mid-air. Pretty impressive. Lets learn more about where to find Snowy Owls in Massachusetts.
One of the most exciting annual visitors to Massachusetts and one sought by local birders is the Snowy Owl. The owl generally visits between November and April.
Snowy Owls are known as an “irruptive” species, meaning that they will move and change location based on the availability of food supply.
As discussed, the owls prefer long flat expanses that are similar to the arctic tundra. So you can find the birds on dunes, salt marshes, beaches, fields, and even at Logan airport, where authorities work to capture and relocate the owls to safer locations.
Mass Audubon has been placing trackers on some of theses owls and has been able to track their migratory patterns for many years now.
Some of the most common Snowy Owl sightings in Massachusetts include Salisbury, Crane’s Estate and Crane’s Beach in Ipswich, Plum Island in Newburyport, Duxbury and the Cape and the Islands.
If you set out to find a snowy owl we urge you to use caution. Do not try to get too close as threats will terminated with extreme prejudice.
The snowy owl is not considered and endangered species. Although the snowy owl can be challenging to track due to its widespread, unpredictable migrations.
There are believed to be over 200,000 snowy owls in the world. Snowy owls do not have many predators. Foxes, eagles, and wolves are among the few predators of the owls, and humans who hunt the owls as trophies (c’mon humans that’s just crazy talk).
Many of the owls reside in Canada, Greenland, Alaska, Scandinavia and Russia. While the snowy owl is not considered an endangered species, it is protected under the US Migratory Bird Act.
That about wraps up our discussion of the snowy owl and snowy owl sighting in Massachusetts. The research has made us appreciate this winged winter visitor even more. Strikingly beautiful, a masterful migrator, and efficient predator the snowy owl is one of the most fascinating transient visitors to Massachusetts.
If you decide to take a trip up to the Rockport and Gloucester area the team at our Rockport MA Hotel we would love to discuss Snowy Owls in Massachusetts and where to find them. This year seems the like perfect time to spend exploring the Cape Ann wilderness. For some other fun outdoor activities check out our articles on Good Harbor Beach, Where To Capture a Sunset on Cape Ann and Things to Do in Rockport!