Snowy Owls in Kansas

Uploaded by kdwpinfo on 25.01.2012

The winter of 2011-2012 has afforded a look at a raptor rarely seen in Kansas – the
snowy owl. Snowy owls live on the Arctic Circle and seldom stray this far south when cold
sets in. But nearly 100 Kansas sightings make this a record-breaking year over the 81 snowy
owls seen back in 1974-1975.
It once was thought that snowy owls traveled far south only when the northern lemming population
collapsed, forcing the birds to migrate to better food supplies. But actually, just the
opposite may be true. When lemming populations explode, snowys produce large clutches of
a dozen eggs or more. And the resulting large owl population, too crowded for winter survival
on the food base that’s left, must disperse. Mostly, it’s juvenile owls that head south
to warmer climes.
Snowy owls are beautiful birds. Though their white ground color makes good snow camouflage,
females may appear dark due to heavy chocolate barring. Males tend to be whiter. They blend
well with the winter landscape, especially when sitting on the ground or on rocks. This
female was filmed last week at Clinton Reservoir dam and outlet.
Snowy owls are inactive through much of each day, sitting and avoiding harassment from
other birds and raptors. Sunup and sundown are prime feeding times, and these owls can
be efficient predators. This one caught three mice in a 15-minute period just before dark.
Owl wings are designed for short flights, and migrations of several thousand miles are
extremely laborious. Many snowy owls reaching Kansas are emaciated. This year, a number
of snowys have been turned in dead or rescued in poor condition to rehab centers. It’s
estimated that well over half of snowy owls in Kansas will never make it back to the far
A map at keeps daily track of snowy owl sightings in this unusual year.
Go there to learn more about where the birds are located near you. It’s exciting to see
and film snowy owls in Kansas, but remember: many of the birds are under stress. Don’t
approach too closely.
It’s the year of the snowy owl in Kansas. Watch for these special birds in the winter
I’m Mike Blair for KDWPT.