It was also important to us to see how healthy they are and see if there was anything we could do to help the population sustain itself. And educating others is something that we thought we could do…
Before I go into our outing this past weekend I am going to answer the first question everyone has this year is, “why is this an explosion year?” Normally, snowy owls lay between 5 and 8 eggs per clutch. But in good years when prey such as lemmings are abundant, they lay as many as 14 eggs per clutch… and that what has happened this year.
Female snowy owls lay their eggs at 2-day intervals so that the young emerge from the egg at different times. The hatchlings in the same nest are therefore of differing ages, with some having hatched as much as 2 weeks apart.
So, this past weekend we met up with a government licensed naturalist that has been working in the area for years. These gentlemen go out, capture the owls and check standard metrics to help them identify age, weight, size and health of the owls that we are all enjoying looking at through our binoculars and lenses.
During our time with these individuals we had successfully, and safely, trapped a Shrike and a Snowy Owl. In this photo below you will see the Snowy that was safely trapped…
We learned that she was a young female that was born in the spring of 2013 and this was her first migration south. This owl had come from Northern Quebec where most of our owls are coming from and she was a healthy 7lbs. Her body was just under 20 inches and had a wing span of 49”… so not a full grown Snowy Owl, but she has been eating well enough to grow to that size in the last 8mths.
A full grown Snowy Owl will be as large as 24 inches in body length, 59 inches in wing span and weigh a few more pounds that the female that we saw this past weekend. Their migration can be as far as 1400 kilometers and it will take them 3 or 4 days to fly that distance.
We knew the owl we captured was a female because males are a lot smaller and, as they get older, become pure white. Females are white with light brown and grey bands through the feathers. As they get older the brown and grey turns to defined darker bands in the white feathers, and as some of us do, pack on a few extra pounds around the middle… ;-)
When you are looking through your lens, look at the colored bands on the stretch out wings, or at the top of the tail. If they are light brown and grey between the white, it is a younger female. If the feathers have darker bands and white, it is a mature female.
If you are venturing out to photograph snowy owls, some can be quite docile and pose for you on perches, in trees, etc… Please be patient, the owl will fly, but let it fly on its own terms. An owl can burn through significant energy by flying. So every time we make an owl fly for that photo op, know that owl will need to eat more to sustain that fine balance of survival, and in a year where food sources are scarce, with higher than normal owl populations, remember that the owl will have to work harder to find a food source.
So what do Snowy Owls eat while they are here? Well, their primary diet is field mice and voles. But we have seen them hunt waterfowl, rabbit and other birds already this season. The photo below is a snowy about to attack a Blue Jay.
I hope you enjoy all the snowy owl photos we are posting this year on facebook and Google+, and it motivates you to get out and take your own images of these magnificent owls. They are only here for a short time before their return to the north.
We have spent countless hours out in the fields watching for patterns, learning about how they hunt and what they eat. Please feel free to email us if you have any questions.
Over the coming months we will be posting more photos from our workshops that we run from the beginning of January through the end of February every year.
To see our workshops, please see this link… http://northof49photography.com/photo-workshops/
If you are interested, please contact us through our contact us page by clicking here.