Snowy Owls: give them a brake

Photo by Terry Nicholson courtesy MIssouri Department of Conservation.

Photo by Terry Nicholson courtesy MIssouri Department of Conservation.

When the lemming population falls, more of the snowy owls that feed on them go south into Missouri, and this is one of those years.

That is big news for birders and the Missouri Department of Conservation is asking drivers to watch for the birds on roads.

“Snowy owls that migrate this far south are unfamiliar with humans and cars,” said wildlife ecologist Brad Jacobs. “They are used to solitary life on the tundra, with few humans, vehicles and power lines.”

But since Dec. 1, the white birds with black markings have been seen at Smithville Lake in the Kansas City area, as well as Kirksville, Trenton, and Long Branch Lake in Macon.

Such southern migrations are called irruptions and this one could be greater than the greatest 2011-2012 irruption, which recorded 69 snowy owls in the state.

They are usually young owls, and they are seen in the northern part of the state, Jacobs said. About 10 percent of the birds have died of starvation in past years, never making it back to the tundra.

The owls gained fame in recent years because of the Harry Potter books and movies, which featured his pet snowy owl Hedwig.

Jacobs said people should not approach them or disturb them. If you see one, he asks that you call him at 573-522-4114, extension 3648. Anyone finding a dead snowy owl is asked to contact the local conservation agent or office.

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