With So Many Snowies to Study, Scientists Are Discovering How Little We Know About This Bird
After a banner year for Arctic rodents, the greatest snowy owl explosion in half a century has descended on the eastern United States--and it's teaching us about these nomads from the north.
BY SCOTT WEIDENSAUL
Published: March-April 2014
No one saw it coming. The earliest signs were from Cape Race, Newfoundland, just about the easternmost point on the continent--the very definition of the end of the road. It's not the sort of place that usually makes news: When the Titanic sank, Cape Race got the distress signal, but that was back in 1912. It's been pretty quiet ever since.
In November, though, people started noticing a bizarre number of snowy owls there. One or two would be normal, but 18, as reported on Nov. 22? "It is now officially a BIG Snowy Owl event," Newfoundland birding blogger Bruce Mactavish wrote excitedly. "How big will it get? . . . In extreme Snowy Owl years I think the Cape Race road record is more than 30. . . . [this] may be just a hint of what is about to happen."
The next day there were 42 owls there.
About a week later the count was 138. And on December 8 Mactavish tallied 206 of the ghostly raptors. Owls flushed from the roadside as he drove out the cape, or crowded together, three or four at a time on each little hillock, in gusty snow squalls and rising wind. "Anywhere you looked you could see them flying low over the barrens," he reported that night to the local birding list. From one spot, he said, he counted 75 with a single sweep of his binoculars.