SNOWY OWL BESTIES ON THE BEACH

When one Snowy Owl boy left his perch and flew within several feet of a second Snowy stationed further down the beach I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially after witnessing several territorial battles between Hedwig and Bubo last winter, as well as a Snowy dispute between a male and female at Crane Beach.

These two behaved as if they were expecting a visit from their best bud. After landing next to the stationary one, the active one immediately began to eat seaweed. This went on for several minutes.

Then he washed his big feet and fluffed his feathers. Both nodded and dozed off, like it was the most normal thing to hang with a Snowy bestie on the beach. They were spotted a few days later again, not too far apart 🙂

SNOWY OWL SLEEPING – PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB

I dream about Snowies sometimes, especially in wintertime. I wonder if Snowies dream–probably, if they do, its all about tasty morsels 🙂

Sleepy Snowy Boy in the wildflower patch.

Do Snowy Owls, like other owl species, feed at night?

Snowy Owls are crepuscular (active and feed at dawn and dusk), diurnal (hunt during the day time), and nocturnal (hunt during darkness). Mostly, while wintering in our region, they rest during the daylight hours. When you see a Snowy sleeping, whether on the beach, a fence post, rooftop, or tree, please give him/her lots of space and let him rest quietly and undisturbed.

In the summer months, Snowies feed in the continuous daylight hours of the Arctic. Their main source of food is lemmings. In years when lemmings are super abundant, female Snowies will actually lay more eggs! Both the male and female hunt and bring food to the growing owlets. Feeding a hungry brood of baby owls is nonstop during the long days of the Arctic summer, and the owls also cache food.

What do Snowy Owls eat when wintering over in New England? I’ll share what we saw Hedwig eat because I am reading tons of misinformation posted online. We saw her eating rabbits, shrews, rats, mice, and yes, sea ducks. At day’s end, she would leave her hotel perch, sometimes heading over the golf course for a rabbit, or swooping down to the rocky shoreline for a shrew, or out to sea for a Common Eider or Bufflehead.

A cache of lemmings circling a Snowy Owl nest–and btw, aren’t they just the cutest!

A Snowy Owl irruption occurs when there is an abundance of lemmings, which leads to an abundance of Snowy Owl hatchlings (more lemmings equals fewer hungry owlets), which leads to more fledglings. Easier-to-catch food is available for the less experienced young hunters further south in the lower 48 states. The adults typically keep north, the first- and second-hatch-year owls often head south. This is another reason to keep a respectful distance, many of the owls are still developing and growing.

Our Hedwig appeared especially adept at catching rodents that were scurrying between the rocks at Bass Rocks. In summer, Arctic Lemmings shelter in shallow underground burrows, or under rocks, just as do Cape Ann members of the rodent family.

Interestingly, some Snowy Owls move further north for the winter. They spend these darkest and most frigid of months at sea, ice hunting for Arctic birds at open patches of water.

Please Do Not Disturb

 

OUR SNOWY OWL HEDWIG FROM ROCKPORT ARTIST DEB SCHRADIECK

While chatting with Cape Ann artist Deb Schradieck and her husband Peter last night at the Good Morning Gloucester holiday bash and amazing bbq, held at Cape Ann Giclee, Deb mentioned she had done a painting of our Snowy Owl Hedwig. The painting is of Hedwig dozing off, nestled under a rocky alcove on Atlantic Road. We would often see her resting, especially during the middle of the day, in between meals. Beautiful capture Deb!

Hedwig has not yet come back to the hotels on Atlantic Road. Folks ask me about this often, whether or not she will return to the same location. Snowy Owls wander widely in their generally north-south migrations. Even if she did return, I think it safe to say, she would look different after another year molting. We would possibly be able to recognize her by habit, but then again she would be a year older, and may have developed different habits. Hedwig is mighty strong, and appears healthy, and as female Snowies are dominant over the males in staking out territory, perhaps as a more mature owl she is spending the winter closer to her breeding grounds. That is my hope for her at least, and that she has many years ahead of making many little Snowy Owlets!

Thanks again to Deb Schradieck for sharing her lovely painting of Hedwig. To see more of Deb’s work, visit her gallery on Rocky Neck and check out her website here: Deb’s Art Gallery.

 

SNOWY OWLS IN MASSACHUSETTS IN AUGUST!?!

The Snowy Owl Project shares that not one, not two, not three, but four Snowy Owls remain in our area! This is highly unusual for August because most Snowies have left Massachusetts by May.

They are finding finding plenty to eat. The owls are being closely monitored and thus far have no health issues. This is the time of year that Snowy Owls molt, so if you see one, it may be brown and missing some feathers.

Hedwig in the moonlight

Tragically, a Snowy Owl was recently rescued at Logan Airport and was taken to Tufts, where it died of rodenticide poison. That brings this year’s total to eight that have been killed by rat poison. Imagine if in every region, this many were killed annually by rat poison. It’s no wonder the species is struggling, despite occasional irruptive years.TOXIC LUNCH!

Photo Dan Vickers

Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge shares the following:

Do you have unwanted mice and rats around your home? Do you also have birds of prey and beloved pets using that same area? If you do, consider the potential deadly consequences of using toxic rodenticides on more than just the rodents.

Dan Vickers snapped this photograph of a Red-tailed Hawk eating a poisoned rat. The blue color you see in the gut of the rat is a fat-soluble dye used in anticoagulant rodenticides. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for rat poisons to accumulate in the food web. Once this hawk consumes the poison, it too can die.

Please help minimize wildlife exposure to pesticides and consider the collateral damage and danger for other mammals, birds of prey, domestic pets, and humans.

Follow this link for more information and safer rodenticide alternatives:

Poisons Used to Kill Rodents Have Safer Alternatives

A second generation of ultra-potent rodenticides creates a first-class crisis for people, pets, and wildlife.

 

 

ANOTHER SNOWY OWL SPOTTED IN GLOUCESTER!

Reader Beth Grahm writes the following, “Hi Kim.  Unbelievable!  There is a Snowy perched on the rocks outside our condo at Old Nugent Farm.  Right now.  Hedgwig?”

Hi Beth, Thank you for sharing your Snowy Owl sighting!! Your owl spotted is definitely a female although, I don’t think it’s Hedwig based on the shape of the feather patterning around her forehead. Anyway, it’s wonderful to see and share so many Snowy Owls this year, thank you!

Dear Readers, please write and let us know if you are still seeing Snowy Owls. Thank you!

THE RETURN OF OUR SNOWY OWL HEDWIG!!!

At least, I think she is our Hedwig–Betty G. and Dave Fernandez, what do you think? Comparing photos from last winter, the feather patterning around her face looks to me identical. 

With thanks and gratitude to Bob and Doug Ryan from Ryan and Wood Distilleries. Bob emailed yesterday afternoon that a Snowy Owl was being dive bombed by crows and gulls. I raced over and she had tucked in under the rocks at the base of a tree.

I took several photos and footage, and just as I had packed up to go, she flew to a large boulder. Immediately, within thirty seconds, a noisy flock of gulls were harassing her from overhead once again, and a few crows dove at her. She then flew to the nearest building. The crows and gulls pestered her for another fifteen minutes, while she quietly perched.

To write “return” is not entirely accurate. She was probably here all along. As soon as work began on the Atlantic Road hotel roofs, we no longer saw her at the back shore. I thought Hedwig might still be here last month, but wasn’t positive, and then Alicia wrote to say she had seen a Snowy and thought it could possibly be Hedwig. It was difficult to confirm without looking at closeups from a long lens. I searched around Alicia’s location for several days but could not find.

Considering most Snowies have left Massachusetts by April, it’s wonderful to have a record of her here in Gloucester in early May. I am elated, and grateful, to Bob and Doug for the call, because now we have footage of her in a rocky woodland Cape Ann setting! Thank you, thank you!

The reason crows mob owls is because some owl species, like the Great Horned Owl, eat crows. Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus) and Great Horned Owls (Bubo virgianus) are closely related.

“WE LOVE YOU TOO SNOWY OWL” LIMITED EDITION PHOTO LAST CHANCE TO ORDER

I am taking orders for the limited edition “We Love YOu Too Snowy Owl” photo through Tuesday, April 16th. If you have not yet mailed your check, please email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you!

NORMAN SMITH, THE MAN WHO SAVES SNOWY OWLS!

Norman Smith from Mass Audubon has done more to save Snowy Owls and bring awareness to this beautiful and at risk species than any other person nationwide. Since 1981 he has been at the forefront of Snowy Owl conservation and his Project SNOWstorm has become a model for saving and studying Snowy Owls around the country.

Several weeks ago I was up north for my short film about Hedwig and came upon a Snowy Owl in the marsh. With very similar feather patterning around the face, I think she is the same Snowy that was released in the video!

“We Love You Too Snowy Owl” Prints for Sale

“We Love You Too Snowy Owl” prints for sale.

For the next two weeks, I am offering a limited edition of the photo “We Love You Too Snowy Owl.” The 8 x 12 photo will be printed on fine art hot press paper and signed. At the end of two weeks, after orders are in and checks received, I will place the order with the printer. The $95.00 price includes shipping and tax. If you would like to purchase a photo of Hedwig, please email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com Thank you!

SNOWY OWL HEDWIG WEEKLY UPDATE AND THE REASON WHY CROWS ATTACK OWLS -By Kim Smith

Our beautiful Snowy Owl Hedwig was last seen on Monday night, March 12th. This was also the night before the third nor’easter. She was perched on the railing of the Ocean House Inn facing towards the sea. The wind was blowing fiercely. Well after dark, and after making several attempts, she successfully flew in a southerly direction out over the water.

It has been two weeks since that last sighting and perhaps we will see her again, but I imagine her to be safe and undertaking her return journey to the Arctic tundra, well-fed from her stay on Cape Ann. Whether she was well-rested is another story. The great majority of people who came to see this most approachable of owls were respectful and considerate of her quiet space. The crows however, were nothing short of brutal. After learning about why crows attack owls, and the degree of aggression possible, I am surprised she lasted as long as she did, and without great injury.

American Crow harassing a Peregrine Falcon, Atlantic Road

Crows and owls are natural enemies because a murder of crows may mob an owl to death (or any raptor by which it feels threatened) and owls occasionally eat crows. Crows are diurnal, which means they feed during the day. The majority of North American owl species that they encounter are nocturnal (night feeding). In the case of Snowy Owls, which feed both day and night, their paths may occasionally cross, as happened when Hedwig moved into the crow’s territory along Gloucester’s Atlantic Road.

American Crows harassing Snowy Owl Hedwig

A flock of American Crows can run circles around most owls, pecking, dive bombing, chasing, and in some instances killing. Snowy Owls are the exception; they are larger, stronger, and faster flyers than other North American owl species. And too, Snowy Owls are closely related to Great Horned Owls, a species known to eat crows when they are roosting overnight. So even though a crow in our area may never before have encountered a Snowy Owl, they instinctively know danger is present.

American Crow

With their incredible ability for recollection, crows are considered the brainiacs of the bird world. Daily, Hedwig outsmarted this smartest of bird species. She learned to stay well-hidden during the daylight hours, laying low atop the hotel roofs. Her salt and pepper coloring blended perfectly with the black, white, and gray colors of industrial roof venting equipment. She adapted to hunting strictly at night, after the crows had settled in for the evening, returning to her hideouts before the day began.

Where’s Hedwig?

From Hedwig’s perch atop the Atlantic Road hotels, she had a crystal clear view of the golf course and Bass Rocks, places prime for nightly hunting.

On one hand it would be fascinating if Hedwig had been outfitted with a tracking device. On the other, if she had been trapped for tagging, she may not return to this area. There is some evidence that Snowies occasionally return to an overwintering location. Next winter I’ll be taking more than a few peeks in the location of the Atlantis and Ocean House Inn Hotels to see if Hedwig has returned.

 *   *   *

“We Love You Too Snowy Owl” prints for sale

The sale of the “Super Blue Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse Over Gloucester Harbor” photo went very well. Thank you so very much to all who purchased a print! Many readers have asked about photos of Hedwig. For the next two weeks, I am offering a limited edition of the photo “We Love You Too Snowy Owl.” The 8 x 12 photo will be printed on fine art hot press paper and signed. At the end of two weeks, after orders are in and checks received, I will place the order with the printer. The $95.00 price includes shipping and tax. If you would like to purchase a photo of Hedwig, please email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com Thank you!

 

 

DAGGERS! SNOWY OWL HEDWIG WEEKLY UPDATE

Our beautiful Snowy Hedwig’s routine hasn’t much changed since she discovered the safety zone provided by hotel rooftops (safe from crows, that is). Hunting during the night, returning at dawn to the roof to various well-hidden niches, and then making her “entrance” at around sunset, she has adapted well to New England coastal living. After preening, pooping, and occassionally passing a pellet, she then scans the neighborhood. Hedwig bobs her head in an up and down motion a half dozen times, then flies east over the sea or west over the Arctic tundra-like golf course.

Snowy Owl Hedwig lifts her head in a bobbing motion to track prey.

Owls cannot move their eyes in the eye sockets. Instead, they employ several techniques to increase their range of sight. An owl can swivel its head a full 270 degrees. Additionally, owls bob their head up and down, a movement that aids in triangulating potential prey.

Dagger Sharp Talons.

Because the forceful impact of the Snowy Owl hitting its prey is so powerful, combined with the vise-like grip of its talons, the animal usually dies instantly.

Hedwig has so far survived three tremendously fierce storms during her stay in Gloucester. Last night, on the eve of the blizzard, she tried to take off several times towards the water. The wind current was strong, but she eventually flew successfully, heading in the direction of Thacher Island. Heres hoping she is waiting out the blizzard in one of her hideaways.

Folks are wondering how long will Hedwig stay. Most Snowies leave Massachusetts by April, although one was recorded at Logan Airport as late as July.

 

 

SNOWY OWL HEDWIG MESSY-FACED GIRL -By Kim Smith

Our winter resident Snowy Owl Hedwig finds plenty to eat along the backshore. Prior to taking off to hunt in the early evening we see her swivel her head and look out to sea, and then swivel around to scan the golf course. We wonder, is she thinking “Shall I have duck for dinner, or shall I have rabbit?” Here she is yesterday morning, face covered in schmutz, a happy sign to see.

SNOWY OWL HEDWIG SURVIES MARCH NOR’EASTER RILEY! -By Kim Smith

Our beautiful Snowy Owl Hedwig survived, and looks none the worse for wear. She spent the afternoon of March 5th resting in a sunny, but wholly unphotogenic location (and extremely windy corridor, too, I might add). Perhaps a New England Nor’easter is nothing to her, when compared to an Arctic tundra storm. She’s clearly a genius 🙂 And has some mighty good survival skills.

Thank you to Betty G. Grizz for sharing her Hedwig sighting this afternoon ❤

SNOWY OWL FEATHERS IN THE MOONLIGHT -By Kim Smith AND REQUEST FOR HELP

Hedwig is the gift that keeps on giving! What a joy to see her awakening in the rising full moon last night. She preened and fluffed, then flew through the moonlight to a nearby phone pole.

The wind was whipping up and ruffling Hedwig’s feathers, making her look extra fine in the glow of the Snow Moon rising.

Dear Friends,

While I am sorting through the challenges of one of the hard drives for my Monarch film crashing, I have been organizing the Snowy footage. Captured in photos and on film, we have her bathing, passing a pellet, pooping, eating, flying, and much more, and is going to make a terrific short film. It’s a mystery to me exactly where she goes when she disappears for several days and I am hoping to document every aspect of her stay in Gloucester. She has been spotted at several locales in East Gloucester, Salt Island, and Twin Lights but, if by chance, she is a regular visitor to your yard, please write and let me know. The best way to keep the information from becoming public knowledge is to email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. I am also looking for a few minutes of footage of a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) as they are closely related to Snowies (Bubo scandiacus), so please write and let me know if you have a resident Great Horned Owl. Thank you so much for any leads given 🙂Full Snow Moon Rising

GOOD MORNING SLEEPYHEAD! SNOWY OWL HEDWIG WEEKEND UPDATE -By Kim Smith

Good Morning Sleepyhead! Actually, afternoon, for you and I. Snowies hunt during the long day light hours of the Arctic summer, but here on Cape Ann, Hedwig awakens every afternoon to begin a night of hunting, returning to her roost at daybreak.

She spends a good deal of time grooming before take off–cleaning her feet, pulling her front feathers through her beak, washing overall, and fluffing out her feathers. Oftentimes she’ll spit up one, two, and even three pellets. Moments before take off she poops, and then off she goes.

A Snowy Owl’s beak and mouth look small, covered in feathers as they are, until you see it wide open. The size of a pellet that is regurgitated from her mouth can be as large as a rat. The beak is covered in small bristles to help detect nearby objects. Snowy Owls have tiny ears and owl’s ears are often asymmetrically set on their head, all the better to hear sound from different angles.

Hedwig was observed everyday this past week in rain, fog, snow, and sun. She’s feasting well on Cape Ann fare!

HOW CAN THE BEATING WINGS OF A SNOWY OWL BE QUIETER THAN A BUTTERFLY’S WING BEATS? – By Kim Smith

Snowy Owl Hedwig Preparing for Take-off

Several times Hedwig has flown so close that I can feel the swooshing wind around her, but I wondered, why her wingbeats are virtually soundless. I have audio recordings of comparatively tiny Monarchs, whose wingbeats are a thousand times louder than that of Hedwig’s wingbeats.

Snowy Owls, like all owls, have evolved with specially designed wings that enable them to fly soundlessly, a necessary feature for stealth hunting of small mammals such as mice, lemmings, voles, shrews, and rats. Their wings are disproportionately large to their body mass, which allows for slow flying, as slowly as two miles per hour, a sort of glide-flying, with very little flapping needed.

Additionally, comb-like serrations on the leading edge of an owl’s wingtips break up the air that typically makes a swooshing sound, creating a silencer effect. And, too, the streams of air are softened by a velvety texture unique to owl’s wings and because of the feathery combs of the wing’s trailing edge (see illustration below).Close-up images of a Great Horned Owl’s wing. On the left, you can see the leading-edge comb; it’s this width that Le Piane measured for her study. On the right, the trailing-edge fringe. Diagram: Krista Le Piane.

Image of a Great Horned Owl’s wings from Mass Audbon. READ MORE HERE.

HELLO HEDWIG! WHAT ARE YOU EATING? SNOWY OWL WEEKEND UPDATE -By Kim Smith

Hedwig has been seen daily along the backshore, mostly laying low during the day. She has become quite expert in fooling the crows as to her whereabouts.

Fog, snow, rain, or sunshine, she isn’t deterred much from her routine of sleeping, resting, and grooming during the day, in preparation for an evening of hunting.

Early this week I watched in amazement as Hedwig swooped down from her perch and flew hundreds of feet directly to the rocks and in between crevasses. She resurfaced with a small mammal in her mouth and ate it very quickly–from the time she flew off her perch until she gave a satisfied lick of her beak could not have taken more than three minutes. I felt very fortunate to have witnessed a glimpse of her hunting prowess, albeit all too brief.

Perhaps the tail is too long for a mouse or rat and too short for a vole, but perhaps not. Small mammal caretaker Erin Whitmore wrote with her suggestion. What do you think Hedwig is eating?Hedwig eating a black and white sea duck.

Again, tonight she flew off her perch, this time heading out to sea. In mere minutes she returned with a sea duck of some sort and proceeded to eviscerate, much to the thrill of her Sunday evening fan club. The lighting was low and I was mostly filming, but did manage a few stills. The duck was black and white and as she mostly sat on her catch while eating, it was difficult to determine which species. Without a crow in sight (as they had surely settled for the night), Hedwig ate well into the early evening.

The feathers were flying! Hedwig with feathers on her face but it’s almost too dark to see.

She’s finding the eating here in Gloucester excellent, but with the warm weather predicted for the upcoming week, I wonder if Hedwig will stay or that will be a cue to depart for the Arctic.

Please don’t get electrocuted Hedwig, as happened recently to a Snowy in southern Massachusetts!

RATS, RATS, AND MORE RATS! SNOWY OWL HEDWIG WEEKEND UPDATE #2 -By Kim Smith

Hedwig was observed Saturday morning, when repeated harassment by a flock of crows sent her hiding. She reappeared Saturday afternoon, and was again seen Sunday morning in the drizzle, not too far from where she was perched Saturday evening. Later Sunday afternoon she slept and rested in the pouring rain.

Hedwig sleeping in the rain (thank you to Arly Pett for letting me know she was out in the rain!)

That she stays in a highly localized winter territory seems in keeping with known Snowy Owl behavior traits. I read that during the summer season in the Arctic, male Snowies hunt over hundreds of miles, whereas female Snowies typically hunt within a much smaller range. She has been observed eating sea ducks and rabbits and there are plenty of rat holes along the backshore rocks.

Both rats and lemmings (the Snowies super food in the Arctic) belong to the order Rodentia. From wiki, “A lemming is a small rodent usually found in or near the Arctic in tundra biomes. Lemmings are subnivean animals. They make up the subfamily Arcicolinae together with voles and muskrats which forms part of the superfamily Muroidea which also includes rats, mice, hamsters, and gerbils.”

Lemming (Lemmini)

Often Hedwig has been seen flying straight out over the water towards Twin Lights. I wondered, if she is hunting there, does Thacher Island have a rat population. Thacher Island Association president Paul St. Germain answers that question for our readers, 

“Hi Kim, there are lots of rats on Thacher mostly in the shore line rocks. We don’t see them often but know they are there. I discovered a bunch in the cellar of the keeper house making their nest in an old tarp. I would love to see Hedwig out there but we don’t go out in the winter. Have never seen snowy owls in the summer.” 

Great info and thanks to Paul for sharing that! A Snowy Owl has been seen on the rocks in Rockport, across the strait, opposite Twin Lights, and wonder if it is our Hedwig.

Rat and Lemming photos courtesy wiki commons media

This brings up the topic, what to do if you have a rat problem. The absolute worst way to control rats is with rat poison, namely for the sake of beautiful predatory birds such as Snowy Owls, falcons, hawks, and eagles. Birds that ingest rats that have been poisoned with rat poison will generally become gravely ill and die. Secondly, it is a cruel, slow death for the rat. They will usually go back to their nest to die. If that nest is located behind a wall in your home, you will smell that unmistakeable horrendous smell for many months. Thirdly, rat poison is only 60 percent effective. I wonder if the rats that survive rat poison will go on to breed super rats.

The best way to avoid having to kill a rat is to make sure they cannot gain access to your home or business by regularly inspecting soffits and woodwork for holes. Old-fashioned snap traps and live trapping continue to be the most effective way to rid your home or business of rats.

Saturday I stopped to say hello to a group of birders flocked together along the backshore who had traveled all the way from western Mass. They were observing Grebes, Buffleheads, and a Common Murre. And a Puffin had been spotted! I asked if they were planning to go to any of our local restaurants for lunch, but they had packed lunches. One Mom shared that an expert from Audubon told the group that there were at least a “dozen Snowy Owls” on Bass Rocks. Bananas! I have to say that it makes me hoppin’ mad when folks spread misinformation about our local wildlife. I gently told her that no, there were not a dozen owls, but that if she and her group waited until late afternoon, they might catch sight of Hedwig.

Twin Lights from a Snowy Owl POV

 

 

 

 

 

SNOWY OWL HEDWIG UPDATE -BY KIM SMITH

Last weekend was a busy one for Hedwig. She is attracting crowds from all around the Boston area. I checked in on her Monday afternoon on my return from Brooklyn and according to a photographer friend she had a very rough day with the crows. One actually hit her hard in the head. She left Bass Rocks Monday evening and I didn’t see her the rest of the week until this morning.

Found this morning with messy face and talons, tidying up from a morning hunt.

A single crow came by to harass her and unlike previous incidents, where I have seen here hold her ground, she left her post immediately and flew to a very cool super secret hiding place. I have never seen her do this before but am so impressed with her ingenuity. She is safe from both crows and crowds in this locale.

Hedwig returned to the railings at the end of the day. After first fluffing and poohing she took off over the water and headed straight toward Twin Lights. I imagine there is good hunting on Thacher Island 🙂

Heading off to hunt late day 

Sleeping in the afternoon sun