Have you been seeing any snowy owls? It seems that each winter I see a few.
As a kid growing up in Iowa, my first memory of a snowy owl was from a cigar box. I remember as a kid peering into the large glass display case at a local restaurant. One whole level of the case was filled with boxes of cigars with names like Roi-Tan, Wm Penn, Red Dot, and of course White Owl. Even as a kid I knew that the White Owl brand was the most exotic. How could it not be? I was well into my twenties before I saw the real thing.
Now most kids are introduced to snowy owls through the Harry Potter movies, and some kids from around North Dakota get to see the real thing almost every winter. I suspect the kids still get a sense of the exotic when they see one of these magnificent birds.
Snowy owls are a species of the tundra. Although they may spend their entire lives there, they often wonder south during winter in search of food. They feed mainly on lemmings, which are small mouse-like mammals known for their wide population fluctuations. When the lemming population is down, owls tend to move southward in greater number. Although snowy owls are regular winter visitors to North Dakota, their numbers can be quite variable.
Look for snowy owls perching on utility poles, fence posts as well as on the ground. If you take a little effort to really observe them you’ll soon be able to differentiate males from females. Males are quite white even though they have some barring. Females, on the other hand, are generally more heavily barred, thus are darker in color. The darker color of females is assumed to provide greater protective coloration during the nesting season.
This is the last Natural North Dakota for 2008, so I’d like to wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2009. However, because January first doesn’t have any significance in the natural world I’m not going to officially wish you a Happy New Year until later.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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