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The Year of the Snowy Owl?

There has been a notable irruption of Snowy Owls during the winter of 2013-14.    Indeed, Snowy Owls are all over the news.  They were even featured on CBS television’s evening newscast on Thursday.   All this talk has some people wondering how many Snowy Owls have been observed in Nebraska this winter.  Good question, easy answer.  The one and only report was a bird found by Michael Burgert in Pawnee County on 21 December.  His cell phone photo documentation is shown below.

Snowy Owl

Nebraska’s only Snowy Owl was found by Michael Burgert in Pawnee County on 21 December 2013. Photo by Michael Burgert.

The Snowy Owl invasion has occurred in the Northeast this winter, away from Nebraska.  So no, it is not the year of the Snowy Owl here.  Even in our region, though, Nebraska’s single report is less than surrounding states, including those states to the south, such as Kansas and Missouri.  This may be due to different detection rates in different states or it may simply be fewer Snowy Owls have occurred in Nebraska this winter for whatever reason.     The pattern of Snowy Owl reports is nicely summarized by ebird, which is a tremendous birder-driven resource.

Snowy Owl distribution

Spatial distribution of Snowy Owl ebird reports since November 2013. The overwhelming majority of reports have been around the Great Lakes and in the Northeast. Image provided by eBird (www.ebird.org) and created 10 January 2014.  Explore an interactive version of this map on ebird by clicking on the graphic.

You may remember that two years ago Snowy Owls were indeed big news in Nebraska.  During the winter of 2011-12, 209 Snowy Owl reports were received by my office and 170 of those reports were documented.  It was by far the most Snowy Owls to be documented in Nebraska in a single winter.   In most winters only a few Snowy Owls are reported in our state and some years none are reported.  Thus, a single report this winter is more the norm than an anomaly.  The Snowy Owl video, below, of a bird in York County was from the winter of 2011-12.

Nonetheless, if you are lucky enough to stumble across a Snowy Owl in Nebraska, please do no hesitate dropping me a note at joel.jorgensen(at) nebraska.gov.

Nongame Bird Blog

About Joel Jorgensen

Joel Jorgensen is a Nebraska native and he has been interested in birds just about as long as he has been breathing. He has been NGPC’s Nongame Bird Program Manager for eight years and he works on a array of monitoring, research, regulatory and conservation issues. Nongame birds are the 400 or so species that are not hunted and include the Whooping Crane, Least Tern, Piping Plover, Bald Eagle, and Peregrine Falcon. When not working, he enjoys birding.

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