OUTAGAMIE COUNTY — I watched as a spectacular snowy owl perched high upon a telephone pole along a rural country road in eastern Outagamie County. Constantly shifting eyes scanned the open field below for prey as the huge bird sat motionless against the buffeting winter winds.
As the winter begins, the stage has already been set for a potential record setting invasion of these angelic Arctic birds across not only Wisconsin, but the entire eastern half of the United States.
Over the past month, snowy owls have been spotted in impressive numbers reaching as far south as North Carolina.
Here in Wisconsin, the Appleton and Outagamie County area has proven to be one of the most productive regions for snowy owl reports this so far in this young winter. From Oshkosh to Green Bay, east to Kewaunee and Algoma, snowy owls have been popping up in large numbers, as well as in unexpected places.
One bird captured the attention of motorists along U.S. 41 as it perched upon a power pole in the center of the new Butte des Morts bridge in Oshkosh. Another spent the morning perched upon a power pole at a popular northeast Appleton bar. Multiple reports have come in from the Outagamie County Airport and surrounding agricultural fields, as well as near the Fox River Mall.
Snowy owls move south in winter in variable numbers each year. A large push south is often a sign that rodent populations on the tundra are in a down cycle.
A large number of owls pushing south, while spectacular and awe inspiring, is also potentially troubling. These birds are here because they are starving. They are desperate for food. And many will not survive the winter to return to their Arctic breeding grounds.
Look for snowy owls in wide open, rural areas, away from trees and woodlands. The birds frequent areas such as large agricultural expanses, airports, as well as open beaches and break walls along the Lake Michigan shore. Multiple snowies have also been reported at Horicon Marsh. These areas are most similar to their Arctic tundra habitat.
How the rest of the winter will play out in terms of snowy owl records here in Wisconsin is yet to be seen. Extensive record keeping of the surge in snowies is being compiled by staff from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
— Rob Zimmer: 920-419-3734, firstname.lastname@example.org