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Snowy Owls Return To The Hoosier State

Stephan Rinke

Two years ago, the northern U.S. saw one of the largest migration populations of snowy owls on record. Although the numbers have slightly declined since that record migration in 2013, snowy owls have been spotted in Indiana again this year.

Snowy owls travel as far south as central Indiana as part of their annual migration. Interpretive Naturalist Brad Bumgardner from the Indiana Dunes State Park says that this year, snowy owls have been spotted along the Indiana lakeshore.

We’re still seeing another little invasion this year. It started earlier than last year, but it hasn’t hit the numbers that it’s hit in the last couple of years.”

The state parks are tracking the birds’ movements as they journey south from their home in the far north.

“Snowy owls are hard to monitor because they don’t occur as an annual migration or an invasion, it’s an irruption that one year you’ll get a big number then you might get none,” Bumgardner says.

Indiana State Parks are using data from Project Snowstorm, an organization of volunteer researchers, bird vendors, wildlife veterinarians and pathologists that tags snowy owls with GPS trackers.

“They’re big, they’re dramatic, they’re charismatic, they’re beautiful,” says Scott Weidensaul, Co-Founder of Project Snowstorm. “And they’re really mysterious, this arctic bird coming down in unpredictable numbers at unpredictable times from the far north, and showing up in places where you would just never expect to see an animal that spends most of the rest of its life living with polar bears and musk oxen.”

Snowy Owls are not considered at risk for extinction, but they do face threats from climate change and dangerous conditions in populated areas. Weidensaul says the majority of snowy owls flying south are young and inexperienced.

“When they come down from the arctic they know nothing about vehicles, they know nothing about planes, they know nothing about high tension wires, they know nothing about glass windows. They get into a lot of trouble down here.”

Bumgardner says late December and early January are the best times to see one of the arctic birds in this area.

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