More Snowy Owl Sightings in the U.S.

Bird watchers and Harry Potter fans are delighted at the larger than usual number of snowy owl sightings in the lower 48 this year. Snowy Owls are native to the Arctic, but fly south every few years to let us admire them. This winter, they've been seen as far south as Hawaii!
“A lot of people who have never seen one before have rushed out and seen multiples,” said Marshall Iliff, an ornithologist at Cornell and the project’s leader. “And photographers are having a field day.”

Additional hot spots include the mouth of the Columbia River in Washington State, with 10 to 13 birds; 20 at Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota, and 30 in Boundary Bay, near Vancouver in British Columbia.

The owls are even showing up in urban and suburban areas, along highways, on signs and fence posts, and in other places where people can more easily spot them. It has been a good snowy owl year at Logan Airport in Boston, too. Because the airfield looks like tundra, snowy owls tend to flock there, and they must be trapped and removed.

“We’ve removed 21 so far this year, and the average is six,” said Norman Smith, who works for the Massachusetts Audubon Society and traps the birds. The most ever trapped was 43 in 1986, Mr. Smith said, “but the year’s not over.”

Experts say that the birds don't seem to be particularly hungry or stressed, so that doesn't explain the move south. The owls are expected to return north as the seasons change. Link -via Holy Kaw!

(Image credit: Flickr user Ian Turk)

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These aren't "pet" birds, it is VERY difficult to get a permit to own owls and other birds of prey, and as far as I'm aware you would need a falconry license. It's not like you can run to a pet store and just purchase one.
This is called an irruption year. There were lots of lemmings this past breeding season, that means lots of young snowy owls, and so lots of them go further and further south, looking for food. I know one in central Ohio was found dead of starvation, probably the same fate for quite a few unfortunately.

I also know one showed up in Hawaii of all places, and was shot when it couldn't be scared off an active runway.

That would suck, being "the guy who shot Hedwig" eh?
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To clarify my first statement, I'm not sure on the exact legality of owls regarding falconry licenses, since you don't exactly use them to hunt. I worded it kind of poorly though. Eh.
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Actually you were correct, you do need both state and federal authorization to possess any bird of prey. Snowy Owls, like most raptors in the U.S. are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty and can only be removed from the wild for personal use by someone who has a falconry license from a state who's falconry program has been certified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The process to become a licensed falconer is quite extensive and it usually takes more than a year just to reach the entry level that will allow you to possess certain raptors. Snowy Owls are an amazing bird that we think could adapt well to trained hunting situations, but not many have tried because they are so rarely seen in the lower 48 states. As a large, diurnal (daytime) hunter, a snowy owl could hunt a variety of game in a falconry situation with the proper training and care. The biggest problem is that by the time a falconer with the proper licensing and interest finds out about a migrating immature snowy owl in his or her area, there's usually already a large gathering of other people observing the bird and it wouldn't be appropriate to trap the bird and remove it from the public's view. However, if a young snowy owl or other type of raptor is removed from the wild by a falconer, it has a very good chance of returning to the wild within one or two years. Since the birds are flown free while huntin, they have many oppotrunities to release themselves and continue life as a wild (more experienced) bird.
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