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Snowy owls make their triumphant return

Submitted by Heidi Hughes
Crookston Times

    Reports of Snowy Owls started trickling in on Thanksgiving week.

    Kyra Midderigh reported the first of this winter season, south of Crookston. The first week in December Faye Dicken spotted one south of Thief River Falls.  A week later, Darlene Dvorak found one south of Warren.  Four more sightings were reported in Hallock, Kennedy, Donaldson and Radium, Minnesota.

    Snowy Owl are not unusual in the Red River Valley. 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.

    In his book (Birds in Minnesota, 2019), Robert Janssen said these owls of the Arctic can show up as early as October. Their southern migration peaks in December. They head back north in April and May.  

    It is extremely rare - but not impossible - to see a Snowy Owl in the summer.  A young male spent the summer of 2002 near the Menard's headquarters in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

    Snowy Owls nest in the tundra. Every three to four years, about the time their nesting success peaks, the number of Snowy Owls migrating south "irrupts." Ask birdwatchers about "irruption" winters, and you're likely see them start to smile as they tell you where they were and how many they saw.

    One of the largest irruptions ever recorded occurred during the winter of 2013-2014.  Birdwatchers reported dozens of "snowies" in northwestern Minnesota and as far south as Florida and Bermuda. In February 2018, Matthew Furst photographed a Snowy Owl near Interstate 20 in Odessa, Texas!

    While this winter's owl season got off to a slow start, Agassiz Audubon has received more than a dozen reports in NW Minnesota. If you want to see a Snowy Owl, now is the time to plan an "expedition."Northwestern Minnesota and the Red River Valley are the most reliable places in the Upper Midwest to see them.

    No need to venture out at night. These owls are relatively easy to spot during the day along rural roadsides adjacent to agricultural fields, CRP, grasslands and airports, golf courses and other open areas.

    Look for them perched atop buildings, trees, grain bins, elevators, road signs, street lights, fences and power poles - anywhere they can get a good view of a potential meal scurrying on the ground below. During the winter, that includes animals ranging in size from voles and rabbits to Snow Buntings and ducks.    

Report owl sightings

    If you spot a Snowy Owl in northwestern Minnesota, send a report to Agassiz Audubon at AgassizAudubon@gmail.com, call or text (218-745-5663).  

    Please include your name, phone number, date and time of day of the sighting, location (city/county and nearest intersection, street address or GPS coordinates) and a photo.  

If you go

    Bring binoculars (7-8x, 35-40mm are best). Stay in your car. Be careful when you pull off the road to look. Use your flashers and turn signals.    

    Watch from a distance. Resist the temptation to walk up to the bird.

    Winter is tough for wildlife, so don't make them waste energy trying to get away from an approaching threat (you). If the owl flies off, don't pursue it.  

    Do not try to feed owls or lure them closer.

    If you find an injured owl, call your county sheriff, your Minnesota DNR conservation officer or the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota 612-624-4745.

    For more information on owls in Minnesota, visit the International Owl Center in Houston, Minnesota or go to: internationalowlcenter.org.      

Snowy owl on a power pole west of Gilby, N.D., Dec. 9
Snowy owl on a power pole west of Donaldson, Dec. 8
Snowy owl on a power line west of Hallock, Dec. 8.
Snowy owl on a power pole southwest of Kennedy, Dec. 25
Snowy 0wl on a spruce tree near Radium, Dec. 8
The great-horned owl pictured on the right has made almost daily visits at dusk to Sunset Avenue in Crookston of late. It first showed up late in the fall and into the winter of 2019-20, and started showing up again a few weeks ago, 
always around the same time and 
almost always perching on the same power pole. 
Sometimes the owl perches in a conifer tree a few feet from the pole. His stay will range from a few minutes to more than a half-hour.