Hungry snowy owls looking for food in the hills.
Snowy owls, as symbolic of the Arctic as Inuit and polar bears, have swept south this winter. Many have paused here in the Headwaters. The wind- scoured fields of Dufferin County, evocative of the treeless tundra, have beckoned them.
Hummocks rising a metre or so above flat terrain are typically where Snowy Owls roost. This too, speaks of their fidelity to the Arctic landscape – a landscape void of fence posts and telephone polls. Snowy owls do sometimes roost on such artificial structures, but slight rises in the landscape are their favoured lookouts.
Most of the snowy owls we see in winter are apparently immature birds and males. Their irregular visitations likely correspond to a trough in the cycle of lemming abundance in the Arctic. Large mature females, seemingly better equipped to endure the almost inconceivable brutality of an Arctic winter, usually remain in the north.
On December 29th a friend and I, following directions provided by Erin birder Dan McNeal, thrilled to the sight of three snowy owls along Dufferin County Road 17 between Highway Ten and the 4th Line in the Township of Melancthon.
If you seek these owls, please remember that stopping by roadside in winter presents obvious dangers, especially on a busy route like County Road 17. Consider the owls’ welfare as well. Their sojourn here in the “south” is not a relaxing winter getaway. They have been driven here by hunger.
Despite their marvelous adaptations to punishing winter conditions, some of these birds are stressed from lack of food. We need to ensure that we don’t compound that stress. Keep a reasonable distance away from the owls and back off if they appear agitated.
The owls we watched on December 29th, all more than 100 metres distant, showed no apparent concern for our presence. They perched quietly atop their hillocks – Arctic icons at home in the Headwaters.