Snowy Owls are invading Northeast Ohio from the Arctic: Here's why it's unusual

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - An unusually high number of beautiful, Snowy Owls have invaded the Northeast Ohio shorelines and will be here through March.

According to Jen Brumfield, a Naturalist with the Cleveland Metroparks, we usually only see one, two or three of these birds in Northeast Ohio through the entire winter but they have 18 reports since the week of Thanksgiving and it's climbing.

In the entire state we typically only see about a six of these visitors, but spotters and naturalists are estimating 50 have landed in the state so far.

Fun fact according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources:

...snowy owls are in the public eye as Hedwig, Harry Potter's pet owl, is of this species.

A pic of a Snowy Owl visiting Northeast Ohio for the winter. (Source: Ken Busch/Cleveland Metroparks)

Why are they here?

During the summer the Snow Owl lives and nests in the open tundra areas of the Arctic mainly in Alaska and the Canadian provinces.

We are currently experiencing a biological phenomenon called an "irruption." Think of it as an invasion.

In the fall and winter the birds move south, but how far they come depends on one of two factors according to Brumfield.

"One, prey on their wintering grounds is extremely few and far between, and so they must journey far to the south to find adequate food to survive the winter," Brumfiled said.

The second reason, and why we are seeing it this year, is actually a good sign.

"Prey (lemmings) was extremely abundant during the summer, and Snowy Owls had an incredibly successful nesting season, raising multiple young," Brumfield said. "When it came time to set up wintering territories, hundreds upon hundreds of young Snowy Owls were booted out by adults that had already claimed those wintering territories, and so they must journey far to the south to find adequate food to survive the winter."

(Source: Ken Busch/Cleveland Metroparks)

Where can I see one?

First, as with all thing in nature, Brumfield wants to remind people to be respectful and keep a safe distance from our visitors.

"Look for Snowy Owls sitting on top of light posts, power poles, and signs along the lakefront," Brumfield advised.

The owls have been seen all along the shoreway from Lorain, to Lakewood, to the east side of Cleveland.

"Some have made it as far south as Holmes County, Marietta Ohio, and even Oklahoma! They'll likely spend the winter here, and be observed all the way through March and early April," Brumfield said.

Top Locations:

  • Edgewater Park pier and rocky shore
  • Edgewater beach
  • Edgewater Marina breakwall and piers
  • Whiskey Island marina breakwall
  • Outer breakwall off of Wendy Park
  • Marina and outer breakwall off of East 55th
  • Marina and breakwalls off Gordon Park
  • Beach, pier and breakwalls at Euclid Beach/Wildwood Park
  • East 9th street pier, looking east towards Burke and north to the outer breakwall
  • Lorain Harbor

?One of the Snowy Owls visiting Northeast Ohio. (Source: Paul Schmidlin/Cleveland Metroparks)

Is it a bad thing they are here?

"This year's irruption appears to be directly tied to a successful nesting season for this species," which Brumfield said is a good thing.

"However, any time a species moves far outside of its typical range, they can become more easily stressed. So far the Snowy Owls in Cleveland have been observed very successfully hunting waterfowl (ducks), gulls and rodents," she said.

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