Snowy Owls Visit Delaware And Delmarva


snowy owl, delaware, sussex county, bowers beach, delaware bay, project snowstorm, assateague, chincoteague, irruption
Snowy Owl seen at Bowers Beach on Thursday .. photo by Leigh Shuck

They’re back!  In the winter of 2013 there was a massive irruption of snowy owls (Bubo Scandiacus) and they were all over the place in Delaware and Delmarva.  You literally couldn’t go anywhere without seeing or hearing about a snowy owl.  Ever since then everyone has been hoping to see one again.  Last year we didn’t see too many of them, there was one near the Dover Air Force base for a couple of weeks.  This year however more snowy owls are showing up again, or we are just seeing them.  Sometimes they are here, but no one can see them since they are in marshes or protected dune areas.

Steve Huy of Project Snowstorm looks for and traps snowy owls to tag them.  Presently they have twenty-two snowy owls that they can track in real-time.  “Solar-powered transmitters record locations in three dimensions (latitude, longitude and altitude) at programmable intervals as short as every 30 seconds, providing unmatched detail on the movements of these birds, 24 hours a day.  Unlike conventional transmitters, which report their data via Argos satellites in orbit, GSM transmitters use the cellular phone network. When the bird is out of range of a cell tower, the transmitters can store up to 100,000 locations, then transmit that information — even years later — when the bird flies within cell coverage.”  It is really cool you can see these birds move in real-time.


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Snowy Owl seen in the dunes of Delaware Seashore State Park .. November 2013

A week or so ago a snowy owl was spotted on Chincoteague by Steve Huy, and recently another one was seen at Assateague Island.  Thursday afternoon, January 5th, one was spotted by Leigh Shuck in Bowers Beach perched on a rooftop. I know the Project Snowstorm managers will be out and about trying to trap and tag more snowy owls.  I am looking forward to tagging along on one of these excursions.  Hopefully we can catch and tag a snowy owl.  Steve Huy spends a lot of time looking for them. “I cover New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.  I was the first to ever trap and band snowy owls in Delaware”


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snowy owl, delaware seashore state park, irruption, arctic migration, migrating raptors
Snowy Owl seen in Delaware Seashore State Park .. November 2014

Not much is known about irruptions, but it is believed a massive amount of available food (lemmings) leads to larger broods of baby birds.  This causes them (owls) to migrate further south.  They can survive just fine, however all species of  raptors are subject to higher mortality rates, aside from natural causes, there are vehicle collisions, rodenticide poisoning and electrocution on power lines.  In 2013 not long after the first arctic blast, we started seeing snowy owls in Delaware Seashore state park, Cape Henlopen State Park and the Delaware Bay beach communities.  Assateague Island saw its fair share as well.  There were literally snowy owls popping up every where even in urban areas and airports.  They prefer wide open spaces like our beach, dune, and marsh areas.


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Steve Huy holding the snowy owl “Baltimore” before release at Assateague Island in 2014 .. photo by Carrie Samis

Finding a snowy owl is not hard, they are the largest of the North American owl species, the males are almost pure white, but females and young birds have some dark scalloping.  If you see them, do not disturb them they are active day and night hunting for their food.  If you see one in or near the dunes in our state parks please stay out of, and off the dunes.  In 2014 many people were ticketed for crossing the dunes and one person even drove their SUV into the dunes to get a closer look.  Observe nature by not disturbing nature.

Fish On!

Rich King

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