Snowy owls swoop into Bemidji area
BEMIDJI -- A snowy owl "irruption" is giving Bemidji residents a glimpse of the majestic raptors, here from Canada in search of their next meal. On Tuesday, a resident found an injured snowy owl on the ground near Pinewood and stopped to notify t...
BEMIDJI -- A snowy owl “irruption” is giving Bemidji residents a glimpse of the majestic raptors, here from Canada in search of their next meal.
On Tuesday, a resident found an injured snowy owl on the ground near Pinewood and stopped to notify the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. And last week, a snowy owl was spotted on the rooftops in downtown Bemidji, poking its fluffed head into view from the ledges above.
While not indigenous to Minnesota, snowy owls often flock here in the winter after they exhaust Canada’s supply of lemmings and mice, according to the DNR’s Christine Herwig.
A nongame wildlife specialist who works in Bemidji, Herwig said the department recently recovered a dead snowy owl and sent another to the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center, where the birds receive treatment.
“For an irruption year, this is normal,” she said, as some owls survive and others die in the competition for food. “That’s how they function, in a boom and bust cycle.”
Herwig said these “irruption” years are hard to predict but happen regularly. Last year was also a big year for snowy owl sightings in Minnesota.
The birds have a particularly difficult time hunting “if we get crusty snow,” Herwig said. “They can hear the mice running underneath the snow, but they can’t break through it.”
They’ll fly as far south as Florida to find rodents and other small prey.
Snowy owls sometimes swoop down and attack humans or turn aggressive when threatened.
Herwig said injured or malnourished snowy owls usually stay on the ground. She said people generally should stay away from the birds, especially if they appear unwell.
“Our presence only stresses them out more,” Herwig said.
Feeding snowy owls is also a bad idea, because the food people give them usually lacks the nutrition owls need to survive.
“It’s best to just leave them be,” Herwig said, “and let them do whatever they need to do.”
She said people should call the DNR if they see a struggling owl.
With their wings spread, snowy owls are more than 50 inches across, and they typically weigh about five pounds, making them one of the largest and heaviest owls in the world.
They have yellow eyes, black beaks, and dusty brown patterns on their white coats.
Pinewood, the site of Tuesday’s owl spotting, is about 17 miles northwest of Bemidji.