Snowy Owl Irruption

P Sutton Snowy Owl 2

Snowy Owl in Stone Harbor, NJ. © Pat Sutton

Reports of Snowy Owl sightings are being recorded all over the US, making this winter one of the biggest Snowy Owl irruption years in recent memory.

An irruption is a dramatic increase in bird populations in places where they aren’t usually recorded. Bird irruptions are often related to lack of food in their normal range.

Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus) are birds of the arctic tundra, and they feed mainly on lemmings. When the supply of lemmings isn’t sufficient to meet the nutritional needs of these owls, they move south in search of food.

The Snowy Owls are so abundant this year that even non-birders are taking notice of these large beautiful birds.

Please enjoy Kenn Kauffman’s Audubon Magazine article about the Snowy Owl irruption this winter.

Don’t Get Too Close!

As much as you’d like to get a great close-up view of a Snowy Owl, it’s very important to keep a few things in mind.

First, these owls are showing up in unusual places because of a lack of food in their tundra home. Many are starving and desperate to eat. When you get too close, you are stressing them and keeping them from feeding. Please don’t get too close to them.

A spotting scope or a good pair of powerful binoculars are essential tools for seeing these birds without causing dangerous stress to them.

Second, if the owls are on private property, please respect the homeowners or businesses where the Snowy Owls are. How would you feel if suddenly large numbers of people were tromping through your yard?

It’s very important to be respectful of both the birds and the property of other people.

The Roger Tory Peterson Institute discusses the serious issue of causing stress to the Snowy Owls and how to avoid it.

Sharon Stiteler has some great tips for safely observing Snowy Owls.

Where to See Snowy Owls

Because Snowy Owls are birds of the tundra, the best places to see them during this irruption will resemble the tundra. These spots include beaches, marshes, dunes, open fields, and even airports.

Snowy Owls have been reported at a wide variety of locations in New Jersey, and I’m so excited that several have been spotted in Stone Harbor, NJ and I’ll be heading there this weekend to try to get a good view.

I ended up seeing my Snowy Owl at Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge near Atlantic City, NJ. See the story at Harry Potter is Missing His Owl.

In fact, Snowy Owls have been sighted at quite a few locations near my Philadelphia home. And the number of stunning photos have been appearing with increasing frequency in my Facebook feed.

Birders in Delaware are very excited that a Snowy Owl was spotted near Port Mahon Rd, because the only other reported sighting had been at the Dover Airforce Base, which is not accessible to non-military personnel.

There are even 4 reported sightings of Snowy Owls in coastal North Carolina, a cause for great celebration for local birders in this state because it is rare indeed when these gorgeous birds migrate this far south!

Jim McCormac is tracking the Snowy Owls in Ohio, and he’s recorded over 50 Snowy Owls in this state.

The Nutty Birder has a great map of Snowy Owl sightings in the Great Lakes Region.

10,000 Birds has a great list of the many recent articles posted about Snowy Owl sightings and other information.

The American Birding Association is keeping a list of the many locations the Snowy Owls have been spotted so far this year.

And eBird has a live interactive map showing in real time where you can see a Snowy Owl.

So grab your binoculars or your spotting scope and head out to observe these amazing birds. Just remember to keep a safe distance away so that you’re not stressing the owl or keeping it from getting its next meal.

How to Help Snowy Owls

Support Project Snowstorm:

Snowy owls are one of the most beautiful and mysterious birds on Earth — and the winter of 2013-14 has seen the biggest invasion in decades of these Arctic-breeding raptors into the Northeast and Great Lakes regions. Help our collaborative group of scientists, bird-banders and wildlife health professionals to quickly mobilize an unprecedented research program during this once-in-a-lifetime event through telemetry, banding, toxicology screening, DNA analysis and much more. By supporting us you will be participating in some of the most cutting edge research on wildlife to date!

Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.

© 2013 – 2014, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. Lisa says

    They are at JFK airport. “Wildlife specialists” have shot and killed two, so far, that the port authority had deemed were a threat to planes. So, New Yorkers you can flock to JFK.

  2. Bonnie says

    How sad they have to fly so far away from their natural habitat to find food. I frankly only want to see them in their natural habitat. But then anymore I’m the pessimist. I mostly see huge homes with huge expanses of grass yards to mow and maintain, etc. etc. More and more stick haulers pass by filled to the brim with logs, of course. Sorry, but every day I’m getting a more desperate feeling. People aren’t endangered, but animals sure are.

    • says

      Bonnie, it’s sad but true that human action is the leading cause of habitat destruction for so many birds and other wildlife. But on a hopeful note, many wildlife gardeners around the country are working very hard to reverse some of this damage. Creating habitat in our gardens (and at our schools, churches, and businesses) can actually add up to a big benefit for wildlife. That’s why I’m so passionate about teaching people to do just that.
      Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..Black Swallowtail Butterflies and Caterpillars

      • says

        I know how you feel, Bonnie. Carole is right; many of us wildlife gardeners are working hard to make a difference in our communities. I am out in So Cal, and pleased to see so many new condo developments making use of native plants in their landscaping,as well as public places like libraries and parks, including the new Tongva Park, Santa Monica, CA.
        kathy vilim recently posted..Why Not Eat Local AND Eat Native, too?

  3. says

    Carole I am very late visiting posts here but I wanted to read this post especially as these owls are my fav. I have heard folks in Northern NY seeing them, but not near me as we are too populated. I will have to find some other spots on your list where I might catch a glimpse.
    Donna Donabella recently posted..Dreaming in the February Garden


  1. […] Snowy Owls are having a significant irruption this winter, with sightings of these beautiful birds being reported all over the northeast, from as far south as Florida and across the midwest. […]

  2. […] find a Snowy Owl near you, check out my article at Beautiful Wildlife Garden about the Snowy Owl Irruption, which has links to maps of all the spots where these beautiful Owls have been spotted this […]

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