Saratoga County

More snowy owls being spotted in area

The fall and first few weeks of winter have brought more than snowy weather to the region. From Fort
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The fall and first few weeks of winter have brought more than snowy weather to the region.

From Fort Edward to Troy to the state Capitol building in Albany, snowy owls have been sighted in greater numbers than usual in the Capital Region in November and December.

“The snowy owl was there again today,” Richard Hynes, an engineer with the state Office of General Services, whose office is in the Capitol building, said last week.

“He seems to like some of the chimneys,” said Hynes, who is in charge of the ongoing Capitol renovation work.

Hynes said it appears that the same snowy owl has been roosting near chimneys on the Capitol for the past three weeks.

The snowy owl’s natural habitat is the arctic tundra, where its diet consists of lemmings, a small rodent, according to Barbara Loucks, a research scientist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

One theory on why the snowy owls have been coming in greater numbers to upstate New York is that when the lemming population is high in the arctic, the snowy owls thrive and tend to have more babies than normal.

Loucks said the additional young owls must disperse to find enough food. More of them head south into parts of Canada and upstate New York, she said.

“It may be a sign that they had a very good, productive year,” Loucks said.

Another theory is that the lemming population has dropped in a given year and the owls head south for more abundant food sources.

“The bottom line is that food drives them south,” Loucks said.

The mature male snowy owl can sometimes be totally white, while the immature male may have brown bands on its breast. The female snowy owl has a white face but the rest of her body is covered with brown bars, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Web page, “All About Birds.” It does most of its hunting during the daytime.

Hynes said the first time he noticed the snowy owl at the Capitol was when he was in his fifth-floor office and heard loud noises coming from the roof.

A peregrine falcon, which is much smaller than the owl, kept “dive bombing” the snowy owl. At the same time the falcon was screeching loudly.

“The falcon was trying to get after the owl,” Hynes said.

Loucks said the falcons don’t like the snowy owl because the owl eats the falcon’s babies. That’s why the falcons dive on the larger bird, she said.

Loucks said it seems that “every so many years” more snowy owls than usual are seen in upstate New York.

“It looks like this is going to be a good snowy owl year,” she said.

She said in recent weeks one snowy owl was seen at the state Capitol and another was spotted perched on the Cannon Building near City Hall in Troy.

“They also have been seeing [the snowy owl] on Long Island, perched on the sand dunes,” Loucks said.

In late November, a snowy owl was seen in the courtyard at the University at Albany.

“The snowy is one of the biggest and probably the heaviest of the North American owls,” Loucks said. “A female can average over five pounds.”

Loucks said this is a good chance for bird watchers and other nature lovers to get out and look for a snowy owl.

“They are pretty impressive, with big yellow eyes,” Loucks said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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