A Snowy Owl perches on a street light near the Coast Guard Impoundment in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, December 30, 2008. Photo by Paul Sparks.
The gorgeous Snowy Owl above has been hanging around the Coast Guard Impoundment, a terrific birding site south of Downtown Milwaukee. (We featured the CGI in "Hotspots Near You" in December 2006.) Birders first reported the owl on Sunday.
On my drive over to the CGI this morning, I was hoping the owl was still there. (Can't tell you how many times I've swung and missed trying to see a Snowy.) So when I pulled up to a stop sign and looked up, I couldn't believe my eyes. There was the owl, perched on a street light across from the CGI.
Two birders were parked next to the iconic blue trailer enjoying the bird, which didn't seem to be bothered by the constant truck traffic below its perch. Paul Sparks shot lots of photos of the owl, and he generously allowed me to use a few on the blog. Be sure to check out his website.
The Snowy Owl stretches a wing. Photo by Paul Sparks.
I was certainly thrilled to see the owl, but I'm also aware that birders can stress rare owls. Last winter, blogger Nuthatch noted that a Snowy in Michigan, which had been seen by many birders, died of malnutrition. "This Snowy Owl," she wrote, "was an example of a bird that dozens of people perceived to be healthy and 'happy,' even as it was slowly starving to death."
This winter, Snowies are being reported throughout the northern states and southern Canada. I've heard conflicting reasons for the influx: that Snowies had a good breeding season last summer and produced more young, and that rodent populations in the normal winter range farther north have crashed, forcing more birds south. Whichever explanation is right, it also seems to be true that some Snowies aren't doing well. The Canadian Press reported two weeks ago on owls starving in Ontario. One source said “They’re dying. This is happening all across Canada."
Here's hoping for a better outcome for the Milwaukee Snowy. — M.M.