|1/29/2014 4:40:00 PM|
by Don ReimerWith our winter bonanza of Snowy Owls here in the Northeast region, owl encounters are a pleasant reality for coastal birders these days. To illustrate, since mid-December I have recorded six separate Snowy Owls within a 10-mile radius of Rockland.
Maine television viewers probably saw the errant Portland owl discovered in an abandoned office building on January 15. Possibly attracted there by resident pigeons and rodents inside the building, that owl was later rescued by a falconer and taken to the Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center in Freedom.
The owl, an immature female, was reportedly in good physical condition. After receiving a nourishing diet of chopped mice for several days, the owl was released off West Meadow Road in Rockland on January 18. Since the bulk of Snowy Owls tend to venture toward the coastline, a coastal release site was chosen.
My wife, grandson and I were fortunate to witness the bird's liberation as two Avian Haven volunteers unloaded a large cardboard carrier box. When the box lid was opened, the owl sprang forth and launched herself gracefully over the grass tops, pumping hard down the field edge. Then she gained altitude and perched briefly atop a skyline utility pole to survey the new scene.
This year's unprecedented owl sightings have provided valuable opportunities to increase our firsthand knowledge of this species' life habits and plumage characteristics. For instance, Maine birders have confirmed some of the species' hunting practices. One particular Snowy Owl has captured ducks at Biddeford Pool to supplement its standard rodent fare.
Well equipped for long-distance flight, Snowy Owls routinely navigate vast stretches of tundra in search of ample food stocks to support nesting activity. Along the coastal fringes of their tundra breeding grounds, these powerful predators are known to travel offshore to hunt Dovekies, a minuscule black-and-white cousin of the Atlantic Puffin. Here in Maine, it should be no surprise that these rugged owls are drawn to coastal islands, where the potential for waterfowl and rodents is high.
Determining the precise age and sex of Snowy Owls can be a bit complicated. Adult males are generally whitest, but there is a broad continuum of spotted and barred plumages that are linked to the specific age and sex of individual birds.
Once again, birders and photographers can be useful. Project SNOWstorm is a collaborative research project that is currently soliciting recent flight photos of Snowy Owls. To quote their website: "In first-year owls, females have more bars than spots on the middle secondaries, where males have more spots than bars. Young snowies with four or more bars on the tail are generally female, while those with two or fewer are males."
Like all raptors, Snowy Owls ingest sizeable chunks of meat and entire animals such as mice. The indigestible parts, such as bones, claws and fur, are formed into pellets that are regurgitated periodically to make space for subsequent meals.
Please check out Avian Haven's website to learn more about their important work and also find them on Facebook and enjoy video clips of the owl being fed and its exciting release.
A video of the release can also be seen at http://vimeo.com/84524086. Happy Owling!
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