Ornithologists are predicting a major snow event this winter. They're not talking about the wet, white stuff. We're sure to get some of that anyway. No, these scientists are expecting a blizzard of the feathered kind: an invasion of Snowy Owls.

    Ornithologists are predicting a major snow event this winter.   They're not talking about the wet, white stuff.  We're sure to get some of that anyway.  No, these scientists are expecting a blizzard of the feathered kind:  an invasion of Snowy Owls.

    That these birds visit northwestern Minnesota is not a surprise.   We see them every winter. According to the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union, the organization that keeps records of the comings and goings of birds in the North Star State, Snowy Owls are regular migrants and winter visitors.

    What scientists are predicting is what they call an "irruption," a spike in their numbers.  

    Every three to four years, when their nesting success peaks, there's an increase in the number of Snowy Owls migrating south.  Ask birdwatchers about "irruption" winters, and you're likely see them start to smile as they tell you where they were and what they saw.

    One of the largest irruptions ever recorded occurred recently, during the winter of 2013-2014.  

    Birdwatchers reported dozens of "snowies" in northwestern Minnesota.  That winter, Snowy Owls were also spotted as far south as Florida and Bermuda.

    They were literally everywhere - atop buildings, corn bins, road signs, street lights and power poles - perching where they could get a good view of a potential meal.  During the winter, that includes animals ranging in size from voles and rats to Snow Buntings and ducks.    

    This year, the first report of a Snowy Owl in the Red River Valley came on October 15th.  Bonnie Howard of rural Warren, MN spotted the bird on the roof of the grain bin in her yard.  According to the Minnesota records, mid-October is on the early side of normal for Snowy Owl to arrive. A few more owls were reported Thanksgiving week.

    While reports are on the increase, it's still too early to say this winter is another big one.   

    If you want to see a Snowy Owl - now's a good time to go out to look for them.  Their northern migration starts around late February, and continues through May.     

Report owl sightings

    If you spot a Snowy Owl in northwestern Minnesota, Agassiz Audubon wants to know.  Send a text (218-745-5663) or an email to:  AgassizAudubon@gmail.com.  Please include the following information:  date and time of day, location (nearest intersection or street address) and a photo (if possible).

Snowy Owl etiquette

    Watch winter birds from your car.  Be sure pull off the road and turn on your "flashers."  

    Watch from a distance. Resist the temptation to walk up to the bird.  Winter is tough enough for wildlife, don't make them waste energy trying to get away from an approaching threat - you.   If the owl flies off, don't pursue it.  

    The best time to look for owls is towards the end of the day when they start hunting.

    Do not feed owls.  They are not starving.  

    If you find an injured owl, call the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota 612-624-4745.