Snowy owl sightings continue to roll in across Red River Valley

Snowy owls continue to attract attention in the Red River Valley and parts of northwest Minnesota.

Heidi Hughes, manager of the Audubon Center of the Red River Valley near Warren, Minn., photographed this young male snowy owl recently near Radium, Minn., along state Highway 1.

Heidi Hughes, manager of the Audubon Center of the Red River Valley near Warren, Minn., said she continues to receive reports about snowy owl sightings. No surprise, that; according to Hughes, ornithologists say this could be a record year for snowy owl sightings in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Hughes said the influx likely results from record production in the birds’ traditional tundra habitat. Typically, snowy owls move south when lemmings — their primary forage — crash in abundance. This year appears to be just the opposite: high lemming populations resulted in so many snowy owls being produced that younger birds have been pushed south, Hughes said.

Whatever the reason, the influx is a treat for birdwatchers.

In an effort to track snowy owl sightings, Hughes has set up a Red River Valley Snowy Owl Hotline at (218) 745-5663. Hughes asks that anyone who spots a snowy owl call with the following information:

1. Day of the week.

2. Time of day.

3. Location (from the nearest intersection — or GPS coordinate).

4. What the bird was perched on.

5. Description of the amount of black barring.

6. Relative size of the bird: (much bigger than a crow or about crow-size).

Avoid stressing the owls, Hughes said, adding she already has received one report of a snowy owl succumbing to starvation along state Highway 89 near Roseau, Minn.

Snowy owl reports also can be reported to Hughes at AgassizAudubon@gmail.com.

Big year for snowy owls?

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas for area birdwatchers who like seeing snowy owls. There’s been an influx of the tundra-dwelling birds, and chances are good that more are on the way.

Heidi Hughes, manager of the Audubon Center near Warren, Minn., photographed this snowy owl Nov. 23 near Warren.

It’s a marked change from last year, when snowy owls were scarce in the Red River Valley.

I’ve already seen two snowy owls, including a bird I spotted Thanksgiving Day along Roseau County Road 3 north of Badger, Minn.

Heidi Hughes, manager of the Audubon Center in Warren, Minn., said three snowy owls have been spotted near Warren this month, along with other sightings near Oklee, Red Lake Falls, Viking and Thief River Falls.

Owls are an “irruptive” species that venture into the lower 48 states when rodent populations crash farther north, Hughes said, along with years after a successful breeding season.

“Some snowies are present in the Red River Valley nearly every winter,” Hughes said in a news release. “But this could be a big year for them.”

Hughes is trying to keep track of snowy owl sightings, and is asking anyone who spots one of the birds to contact her at (218) 745-5663 or by email at agassizaudubon@gmail.com.