Snowy owl sightings in BC – 2012/13 possibly highest numbers ever reported.
For the second winter in a row, majestic snowy owls are being spotted in unusually large numbers in British Columbia, especially in the Boundary Bay area, just south of Vancouver, but elsewhere as well. This is an unusual occurrence, as these birds have been observed to winter in BC in the past only every 4 or 5 years. Prior to the winter of 2011/12, they had not been observed in the BC Delta area for more than 5 years.
Some snowy owls will overwinter on their arctic breeding ground, and some will migrate south into southern Canada and the Northern United States. The irruptive occurrence of snowy owls migrating to more southern locations in the winter is most likely due to population fluctuations of their arctic prey species such as lemmings. Low numbers of prey in northern areas may cause the birds to fly south in search of food. In extreme cases, birds have been spotted as far south as Texas and Florida.
At this time, the reason for this year’s mass migration of snowy owls to BC is not known. Seven young owls recently were found dead in the Prince George area. These birds appeared to be starving, which could be due to due lack of hunting experience in young birds, the high energy expense of flying so far south, or difficulty in finding food in an environment so different from the arctic tundra.
A quick check with other wildlife health units across Canada indicated that, as of mid-December 2012, snowy owls had not been observed in unusually high numbers east of British Columbia. If you observe unusually high numbers of snowy owls this winter or find sick or dead owls, the CCWHC would like to know about it. Please go the “Contact Us” page of the CCWHC website and contact the nearest CCWHC Regional Centre.
More on snowy owl incursions to southern Canada can be found on the CBC news website. http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2012/12/27/bc-snow-owls-starving.html