The snowy owl must know Buffalo Niagara is the wisest place to be this winter.
An early invasion of the large, northern bird that spends its summers chasing the frigid air north of the Arctic Circle has been spotted across the region this week, including Buffalo Niagara International Airport, Rochester and Chautauqua County.
And on Wednesday, one female owl was perched atop an Eggertsville home for more than six hours.
The striking white owl, its wings striped in black, peered down with its beady, bright-yellow eyes from Becky Dickinson’s chimney atop her Meadow Lea Drive ranch home, attracting the attention of not only the homeowner but several passers-by.
“I was absolutely amazed,” said Dickinson, who alerted The Buffalo News after spotting the bird on her house. “He was there at 8:30 a.m. I knew right away.”
“This is the first owl I’ve seen in this area in 15-plus years,” she added. “I’m hoping it might be good luck.”
While the 20-plus-inch tall predatory raptor – which feasts mostly on rodents like rats, mice, moles and voles – is not considered endangered, it’s not frequently seen in the region.
“There are snow owls everywhere right now,” said Marianne Hites, a federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator from Messinger Woods. “It’s still early, but there have been eight or nine sightings so far. When I saw them a couple of years ago, it was Christmastime.”
Hites said the snowy owl will often tend to congregate in flat, open lands, like the airport, where two have already been spotted, because it “reminds them of the tundra” of the extreme arctic regions in northern Canada.
“We don’t get to see them every year,” Hites said. “In the hard winters, they’re coming through here, and if the hunting is good, they’ll be here all winter long.”
Although the snowy owl – the provincial bird of Quebec – is also native to Alaska, sightings in recent years have seemed more and more common over the northern section of the “Lower 48” – and even one near an airport in Hawaii. Federal officials, fearing the owl might interfere with aircraft, actually shot and killed the bird on Thanksgiving 2012, according to a report in the New York Times.
The sightings of the snowy owl and other birds of prey – like the peregrine falcon and bald eagle, which have also experienced resurgences locally here within the North American Migratory Bird Flyway – will become less and less rare as the region’s natural resources and habitat are restored, according to Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.
“Unlike most owls, the snowy is active both during the day and night, which could allow for a better chance for a sighting by a casual observer,” said Jedlicka. “Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper’s field work in recent years has allowed us several observations of snowy owls in both the outer harbor and Buffalo River corridor.”
Hites urged birdwatchers and the general public to be on the lookout to help the snowy owl, when necessary.
“Each year, we do get one to two that come through here,” said Hites of the wildlife hospital. “The survival rate is low.”
The birds are vulnerable to distress from dehydration, disease or attack by its predator – the great horned owl.
Anyone who might witness a snowy owl in distress is asked to immediately contact a wildlife rehabilitator for assistance.
Hites can be reached at (716) 572-2720. Other available help can be obtained by calling Messinger Woods at (716) 345-4239 or the SPCA Serving Erie County at (716) 629-3528.