Great Gray Owl ‘irruption’ Appears To Be Winding Down

The reports I’ve gotten from birding enthusiasts in the past few days indicate the influx of great gray owls that converged on parts of northwest Minnesota appears to be winding down as the birds move back north.

That being said, the “invasion” of owls moving down from Canada was big news in the bird world, and it provided some great viewing opportunities for both expert and novice birders alike.

In birding terms, the invasion was an “irruption,” a phenomenon that occurs when numbers of a particular species move into an area. In the case of the great gray owls, the birds converged on northwest Minnesota after supplies of the mice, moles and other small rodents they depend on for food ran short in Canada. And according to reports from wildlife managers, northwest Minnesota had a particularly abundant supply of small mammals for the owls to feast on this winter.

Some friends and I spent a few days on Oak Island of the Northwest Angle in late February and saw numbers of owls near Sprague, Man., just across the border. The owls seemed to be favoring areas that provided trees for perching, but with enough open habitat to offer a clear view of small critters scurrying on or under the snow. Once we got closer to the Northwest Angle, where the terrain is more heavily forested, the number of owls we saw declined.

Beth Siverhus of Warroad, Minn., photographed this great gray owl perched atop a flagpole north of Warroad earlier this week. She titled the photo “U.S. of O(wl).”

Beth Siverhus, an avid birdwatcher and amateur photographer from Warroad, Minn., has spent a lot of time watching and photographing owls during the past few weeks and says the number of birds she’s seeing has declined as the owls move back north. Siverhus, who also is a certified wildlife rehabilitator, said she knows of four owls killed by vehicle collisions, one that was shot and another that died of unknown causes. In every case, she said, the owls were in good physical condition, which suggests they were finding ample food supplies during their time in northwest Minnesota.

Siverhus got some excellent owl photos during the recent irruption, including this shot of an owl perched atop a flag along Roseau County Road 137 north of Warroad. She titled the photo “U.S. of O(wl).”