The snowy white owl is a majestic bird that isn’t just named for its fleece-white appearance. These owls generally stay in the Arctic where they breed year-round. However, this year, they are winging their way south at an alarming rate, with bird enthusiasts referring to it as a “mass migration.” Most of the time, a bird watcher would have no opportunity to see these without venturing to Arctic, but the sudden onslaught of snowy owls across the continental United States has bird lovers excited.
Denver Holt, head of the Owl Research Institute (yes, there is one) in Montana, has said that this is the most significant wildlife event in decades. Holt has studied snowy owls extensively, spending considerable amounts of time observing them in their natural Arctic tundra habitat. He has a theory as to why the mass migration is happening now. Snowy owls feed on rodents called lemmings mostly. Last year, lemmings were in great supply, causing the snowy owls to have plenty of food and therefore survive and multiply more than usual. According to Holt, this surge in the snowy owl population, which is normally a species considered to be in decline, has created the opposite situation this year. Basically, there are a lot more snowy owls and not enough lemmings to go around, leading the birds to compete harder for food. The owls that are coming up short on the food chain are heading south to look for more food sources.
This is speculation, of course. It is interesting that with all the rampant theories going around about global warming, the snowy white owls, that love the Arctic lifestyle, are actually leaving it and heading south to warmer areas. Not exactly a wonderful endorsement for climate change, eh? However, if Holt’s theory is right, it has nothing to do with the climate in the Arctic, but merely an example of life adapting to the situation to survive. In any case, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for bird enthusiasts to observe these iconic birds thousands of miles from their natural habitat.