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Bird of the Week: Snowy Owl

The Snowy Owl is an exciting owl to spot during our Michigan winters. This white and tuft-less owl primarily lives and breeds in the arctic tundra of Canada. When migrating south for the winter, their southern range doesn’t extend much further than southern Michigan. In fact, typically only immature birds fly this far south. Adults tend to stay closer to their breeding grounds during migration. Due to this, only one to three dozen are spotted each year in the state of Michigan. Due to irruptions and irregularity in southward movements, this number is not consistent from year to year and up to 100 Snowy Owls have been spotted during some Michigan winters. Even though there are so few individuals in Michigan during the winter, they tend to be easier to spot than other owl species because they are active during the day. You will find them in habitats that mimic the open nature of the arctic tundra, such as great lakes shorelines, prairies, open fields, marshes, beaches, dunes and airports. They perch prominently in open areas and, since they are ground nesting birds, are often seen perching close to or on the ground. Unlike other owls, which return to cover to eat, the Snowy Owl eats in the open. These owls lead a very nomadic lifestyle and can change their territory from year to year. These factors make it very exciting to come across a Snowy Owl in the wild. We encourage you to visit your Metroparks to try to spot these owls, from a safe and respectful distance of course. Keeping your distance protects you if the wildlife suddenly responds aggressively and protects the wildlife so as not to disturb their needs for survival. A typical rule of thumb for wildlife observers is to keep a safe distance of 50 – 100 yards between you and the animal. We hope you get a once in a lifetime chance to spot this unique owl. Happy Birding!

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