An irruption of owls
January 24, 2014 3:16 PM   Subscribe

Snowy owls are irrupting across the upper Midwest and down the East Coast as far as the Carolinas in what could be the largest such irruption in at least 20 years. They're here because there were a lot of lemmings in the Arctic last year, and so snowy owls made a lot of snowy owls. This year? Not so many lemmings, and so many of them have come south in search of food.

ebird has a live map here. Snowy owls have a hashtag. If you're in Washington DC, you can go look at the one that's currently perching on the WaPo building; it was seen in McPherson Square on Wednesday afternoon.

A few have been banded and fitted with tiny transmitters, and you can see where they've been going. They really love airports: Michigan; Philly, Reagan National Airport, and after an uproar over the killing of wayward owls, they will now be trapped at New York airports instead. If you're of a mind to see some for yourself, you can check the lists where birders have been reporting sightings.
posted by rtha (50 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

I want one.
posted by Melismata at 3:21 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

Well there's a word I didn't know before today
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:22 PM on January 24 [21 favorites]

You really don't want one. Among other issues, they have a special second, smellier kind of poop.

I can understand the urge though. Awww.
posted by JHarris at 3:22 PM on January 24 [2 favorites]

"We're out of lemmings."
"O RLY?"
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:25 PM on January 24 [13 favorites]

I wonder I've heard one outside at night here in NC?

There was an owl a month or so ago outside my bedroom window, and she sounded just like some of these alarm cries. I thought it was a dog, at first, because it was such a weird sound and so loud. But I never saw her.
posted by winna at 3:25 PM on January 24

Snowies are damned impressive birds.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:31 PM on January 24

Just in time for the Superb Owl.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:36 PM on January 24 [30 favorites]

Relevant to above comment
posted by lalochezia at 3:38 PM on January 24

So gingerbeer and I were visiting her parents in central Virginia last weekend, and we went on a daylong drive through the Shenandoah to see if we could see a couple of the snowies that had been reported south of Harrisonburg. We found the spots, found other birders, but found no owls. Oh well, it was a lovely day for a drive. And we went to visit a small distillery, so all was not lost.

Because of the weather, our Tuesday flight got pushed to Wednesday. There we were, sitting on the tarmac at National at 5 pm, when reports of the snowy in McPherson Square started coming in. gingerbeer's work's DC office is in McPherson Square. Our friends who we stayed with in DC live maybe a mile from McPherson Square. But we were trapped on a plane on the other side of the river. Stupid owls.
posted by rtha at 3:40 PM on January 24 [2 favorites]

I went and visited the WaPo owl this afternoon! Highlight of my day, and it delights me that DC (and Metafilter) is getting so amped up about this. Who doesn't love owls?
posted by capricorn at 3:43 PM on January 24 [4 favorites]

Small rodents?
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:45 PM on January 24 [9 favorites]

posted by capricorn at 3:47 PM on January 24

I hate all of those people with a deep, irrational hatred.
posted by rtha at 3:52 PM on January 24 [2 favorites]

Relevant: one of us had nowhere else to go
posted by oulipian at 3:59 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

My grandfather had a huge huge barn, I was laying up in the hay loft staring being lazy when the resident great snowy owl sailed through above. Huge wingspan. Calm, silent, white. One of the best moments ever.
posted by sammyo at 4:01 PM on January 24 [11 favorites]

We have beaucoup squirrels here in NC. Have at 'em snowy owls!
posted by mightshould at 4:03 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

Check out the owl's expression, it's onto the fact it's been LoJacked.
posted by pibeandres at 4:06 PM on January 24 [2 favorites]

I love owls, but they really give the impression of always trying to figure out how to eat you, I think they just want to eat all mammals and we got lucky by being just a little too big to comply with their desires.
posted by edgeways at 4:07 PM on January 24 [4 favorites]

I wonder if we are also seeing a kind of echo from Harry Potter. There must have been some trade going on in various exotic animal markets after the films. All those fans wanting owls of their own. I do remember seeing some articles at the time explaining that Owls are terrible pets. Still that never stops people. As they became too much for their owners to handle, many would have been set loose. This happened in Japan where American Raccoons have become a serious pest because of a popular kids move some decades back. It seems a lot more plausible than some boom in lemmings.
posted by humanfont at 4:07 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

Anything that craps mouse bones is okay by me.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:08 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

Oh yes, owls would eat you if they could. And are pondering their potential success rate as they watch you...
posted by Windopaene at 4:14 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

This happened in Japan where American Raccoons have become a serious pest

Y'know, I don't think it's beyond the capabilities of Japanese science to engineer a huge fucking owl.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:16 PM on January 24

Japan already has really big owls.
posted by gingerbeer at 4:19 PM on January 24 [2 favorites]

I meant to post this in the other owl thread but it then slipped my mind.

The Hebrew term Lilith or "Lilit" (translated as "Night creatures", "night monster", "night hag", or "screech owl") first occurs in Isaiah 34:14, either singular or plural according to variations in the earliest manuscripts, though in a list of animals.

The Jewish encyclopedia says only, not first, for the Isaiah citation. The King James traslation uses screech owl.
posted by bukvich at 4:21 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

Be sure to fit your outdoor cat with a bell to warn the birds.

That food is nearby.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:26 PM on January 24 [6 favorites]

They are here this winter. Just found these!
posted by vrakatar at 4:36 PM on January 24 [4 favorites]

I was watching my birdfeeder this afternoon and suddenly all the sparrow bolted, and then I saw a crow just BOOKING it across the sky, and I was like, "dur? Sparrows, you are not afraid of the crow, and crow, you are a lot lazier than that," and then this huuuuuuuuge bird of prey flew low across my patch of sky and I was like, "OMG I BET IT'S A SNOWY OWL!"

I actually think it wasn't, it was not nearly white enough underneath, I think it was probably an RTHA actually. But there's been so much snowy owl fever that I was excited there for a second.

I ran to the next window to see if I could keep watching it but nope it flew off in a non-window direction, and it was flying against the light so that I barely saw any details.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:52 PM on January 24 [4 favorites]

This is great. My outdoor savvy pal was telling me of his owl sighting in downstate Illinois but he's not very good at species names or remembering them anyway. He thought Great Horned Owl until I reminded him of the time we saw one of those dueling with some Blue Jays. But he described something this size and general color. I bet that's what he saw.
posted by IvoShandor at 5:22 PM on January 24

Based on the frequency of new photos posted in a Rhode Island photographers group that I belong to, southern RI has quite a few that have taken up residency along the shore. Very cool birds.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:48 PM on January 24

I love this picture of a snowy owl laughing on a dune at Jones Beach.
posted by rtha at 6:29 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

It quite made my day when I saw one near Wingham, ON in 2006. Big birds with the most striking eyes.
posted by scruss at 6:47 PM on January 24

Owls also like to get down.
posted by capricorn at 8:13 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

We are coming.
posted by The Owls at 8:21 PM on January 24 [9 favorites]

Dog and Owl.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:45 PM on January 24

Came for "parliament," was disappointed.

Owls come in parliaments, not irruptions.
posted by spacewrench at 9:11 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

I'd like to image macro one flying with "Look upon my talons, ye squeaky, and despair."
posted by JHarris at 11:03 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

humanfont: " It seems a lot more plausible than some boom in lemmings."

Lemmings have a well documented population fluctuation cycle that has the knock on effect of cycling the population of the species that prey on them (ermines, arctic foxes, Snowy Owls, Gyrfalcons, and jaegers). Or at least they did; climate change seems to be having a negative effect on lemming populations because of the change in snow conditions.
posted by Mitheral at 1:32 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]

My parents have one on their farm in Southwestern Ontario. Since my dad is a bird fancier and both parents have been having issues with rodents in the barn, they are overjoyed with the new arrival. They just need to keep on the grandchildren, I suppose…
posted by LMGM at 2:03 AM on January 25

My folks' house had a big deck in back with a large snowball bush next to it. Birds loved that bush as it afforded lots of shelter, even in winter.

One sub-zero snowy morning I awoke and per custom flipped on the big floodlights illuminating the deck and its thermometer. What had been a perfect white drift of snow the night before was covered with blood, bones and feathers, a regular crime scene. The intense cold had kept the blood brilliantly red and it was everywhere. The culprit/diner was nowhere to be seen but snowies had been spotted nearby.

I love owls but damn. Nature surely can be graphic sometimes.
posted by kinnakeet at 3:52 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]

Owls come in parliaments, not irruptions.

Yes, a flock of owls is referred to as a parliament, but this isn't a description of a flock of owls. Irruption is what is being described here.
posted by mcstayinskool at 5:58 AM on January 25

Such cool birds, owls. I am pretty sure that one came up on me silent all of a sudden in the Santa Cruz woods, but the experience was so intensely weird that it seemed like a dream when it was happening, and over the years I've lost track of if it actually happened or not.
posted by Scram at 7:19 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]

It's a bit soon for Hogwarts acceptance letters isn't it?
posted by divabat at 10:25 AM on January 25

I think it was probably an RTHA actually.

You can see Red-tailed Hawks regularly in some urban environments. I hadn't really noticed so much before, but they were pointed out to me a few times, and then I started looking for them and seeing them quite a bit.
posted by ovvl at 11:13 AM on January 25

Yeah, if you start looking up, you'll see us in places you wouldn't expect.
posted by rtha at 11:33 AM on January 25 [6 favorites]

I hope to see a Snowy this winter. I was almost killed by owls this past year, though. I started laughing at this gif (caution: rat death), choked and had a hard time recovering as I was still laughing. Not the worst way to go, I guess.
posted by Morrigan at 3:55 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]

I thought it was odd that people were making such a big deal out of the one in DC. We've had one out here in the Ashburn area (northwest of Dulles Airport) for several weeks. It snagged a 15 lb. Jack Russell terrier out of someone's yard, but the dog did manage to get away (though he was badly injured).
posted by candyland at 7:34 PM on January 26

I fel bad for the dog and its people but also Oooh neat! and bad for the owl, which is probably a juvenile and both inexperienced and hungry.
posted by rtha at 9:26 PM on January 26

Article in today's NY Times about the Snowy Irruption.
posted by leslies at 2:40 PM on January 31

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