Snowy owls are showing up early in the Lake Simcoe area this year – often arriving thin, weak and vulnerable.
Snowy owls nest and summer in the Arctic tundra, where their prey is mostly lemmings. In winter, they move to marshes, fields and wetlands, where they hunt rodents, ducks and rabbits. In years when food is difficult to find in the north, these owls come further south. The young snowies come ahead of the adults, so the snowy owls now arriving in the Lake Simcoe area and as far south as Toronto are young, inexperienced hunters. Many are arriving emaciated and weak, requiring care from wildlife rehabilitation facilities in order to survive.
Adult male snowy owls are white, while females have black spots. They are diurnal, meaning they hunt both day and night. They have a wingspan of 52 inches, and a healthy owl weighs about four pounds.
The arrival of these beautiful owls has attracted a lot of attention. Photographers and passers-by are finding them and giving out their locations, not realizing that they may be putting the owls at risk. With as many as 50 people sometimes lining the side of the roads, cameras in hand, day after day, the owls may be prevented from hunting the food they need to survive. It could be a life or death situation for these beautiful creatures, especially after a long journey with inadequate food.
If you spot one of these beauties, please keep a safe distance. Do not harass, chase, follow or feed an owl.
Please take some photos at a respectable distance and then leave to allow the owl to hunt. Distracting an owl, especially on a continuing basis, could cause it to miss that important meal.
Feeding store-bought mice also is discouraged, since this could lure it into harm's way. It might make the owl depend on and trust humans. In addition, you could be introducing an invasive species into our environment.
If you see an injured owl, call your local wildlife rehabilitation facility for instructions. Keep these owls safe. They do not know humans or vehicles therefore are easy prey for getting hit by passing cars and habituated to humans. Many have been killed by cars this season, and many others are starving and in rehab facilities recovering.
The snowy owl photographed here is now recovering at Procyon Wildlife Rehabilitation Facility. "The poor body condition of the owl tells us that it had not been a successful hunter, and had been grounded for some time," Crystal Faye from Procyon said. "It sustained injuries to both eyes and has a fractured clavicle, so it was likely struck by a car. After a few weeks of rest, medications, and a full belly we are hopeful that it will recover and can be released."
Dr. Sherri Cox, of National Wildlife Centre, assisted by intern vet Dr. Trinita Barboza and volunteer Erin Longo, made a house call to Procyon, took x-rays and gave the owl a check-up.
As winter arrives, please watch for these beautiful owls. Help make their journey a safe one.
The snowy owl at Procyon Wildlife Centre is recovering well, making loud screeches when she wants her food. She is seeing much better but still requires more healing for her eyes. She is being fed mice, which also are used to get medication into her more easily.
If you find an injured owl, please report it right away. Here are some of the wildlife rehabilitation facilities in southern Ontario:
The Owl Foundation
An owl rehabilitation centre located in the Niagara Peninsula.
Toronto Wildlife Centre
Wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre in Toronto.
Rehabilitation centre in Beeton that rescues and releases all species of mammal native to Ontario.
Shades of Hope Wildlife Refuge
Pefferlaw refuge rescues all wildlife except raccoons.
Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary
Animal protection organization in Muskoka Lakes.
Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry hotline: 1-877-847-7667
Find other wildlife rehabilitation centres in Ontario: ontario.ca/page/find-wildlife-rehabilitator
Article and photographs: Jennifer Howard, Jennifer Howard Nature Works Photography, Innisfil