There are five species of owls in our area, in addition to the rare visitors like the snowy owl. This year is an irruption year for snowies in the lower 48 states. This movie star appeared in the “Harry Potter” movies as Hedwig but usually is only seen in the Arctic.
Snowy owls weigh in at four pounds, are 23 inches long but have a 52-inch wing span. Immature owls have dense, dark barring, turning to snow white after their first year. Their diet consists of 97 percent lemmings, with an occasional fox or hare.
During most winter irruptions, the birds travel south in search of food when food sources on the arctic tundra are short. However, this year was a banner year for lemmings. Hence, the arctic raptors, including snowy owls, had many offspring. The number of birds led to overcrowding and high competition for the available food source, which drove down the young in search of food. Sightings can be reported to Cornell Lab of Ornithology at www.allaboutbirds.org.
Here are some fun facts about owls:
Many owls have special comb-like fringes on the leading edge of their wings to help channel air over the wing, thereby reducing noise. These adaptations for silent flight allow the owl to make a soundless approach towards its prey.
Owl’s eyes are unique among birds as they are located on the front of the head, instead of on the side. This not only gives them a very human appearance but also enables them to match our level of depth perception that is created by the overlapping vision from each eye.
The ears of most owls are located asymmetrically on their head, with the right ear being higher than the left ear. Each ear hears the same sound with a slight difference, thus creating a form of audible “depth perception” which can be used to track the location and movements of their prey.
Kathy and her husband, John, own and operate the Wild Birds Unlimited, located in Billings and at www.wbu.com/billings. She is a certified bird-feeding specialist and is past president of the Yellowstone Valley Audubon Society.