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Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca)
Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca) - Larry Hitchens
"A Circumpolar Navigator", the Snowy Owl is a rare but occasional visitor to the mid Atlantic and points south. Larry Hitchens captured the image above along the Atlantic Ocean on the Maryland portion of the Assateague Island National Seashore. Our images of this bird are few and far between. However, I have had a few observations through binoculars but the owls were well beyond my range for photographs. My first Snowy encounter occurred along the Garden State Parkway just south of Tuckerton New Jersey while returning from a day at the Barnegat Inlet and Lighthouse. The owl was perched on a sign post just off the roadway.
My later encounters with the Snowy Owl would take place along the Atlantic beaches in Delaware near the Indian River Inlet where I spotted two different owls on each side of the inlet sitting in the dunes. As far as luck would have it, all of my sightings occurred on opposite sides of major roadways where turning around was not an option. I could just try to pull safely off to the shoulder of the roadway and observe the birds from my vehicle. My last and most recent observation took place in meadow near Jacks Mountain Pennsylvania. However, I will continue keeping my eyes peeled for this beautiful species and one day, Ill get lucky with the camera.
How far south do they go? This depends entirely on their food sources. The Snowy Owl's preferred prey is the Lemming and they will consume up to 3 per day or about 1600 per year. During periods of low populations of the Lemming, the owls will travel much farther south in search of food.
Snowy Owls have been observed as far south as Georgia. The first snowy owl reports in 22 years have been reported up around Tennessee, where birders armed with spotting scopes were eager to catch a glimpse of the owls. One owl was spotted in the fields surrounding a General Motors plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. in early December. Members of the Tennessee Ornithological Society's Web site posted sightings until late January, 2009 (TN Audubon). Another owl had been reported at Bald Head Island, Brunswick Co., NC in 2001. There have been more reports of sightings on James Island and on a chimney of a large house in Charlestown SC.
Snowy Owl Biology
The Snowy Owl is a large, diurnal white Owl with length of 20 to 27 inches with the average female at 26 inches and the male at 23 inches. The normal wingspan is 54 to 65 inches and the average weight of the female at 60 ounces and the male at 53 ounces. Adult females are distinctly barred throughout whereas the male is almost pure white with the exception of tail bars. The males will get whiter with age. Snowy Owls are active during the daylight hours.
Courtship can begin during midwinter and may continue through March and April, well away from the breeding grounds in the Artic. The Snowy Owl nests almost exclusively on the ground but may use abandoned eagle nests and gravel bars. Breeding occurs in May with the clutch and brood size heavily dependent on food supply. Snowy Owls may not nest at all during years of low lemming numbers. Clutch sizes normally range from 5 to 8 eggs but the female may lay as many as 14 eggs during high lemming years. The incubation period is normally between 32 to 34 days with the young leaving the nest after 25 days and well before they can fly. Fledging occurs after 50 to 60 days.
Besides the Lemming, their prey may consist of many small mammals including the Artic Hare, mice, muskrats, marmots, squirrels, rabbits, prairie dogs, rats, and moles. Many species of ducks, geese and other birds may be taken as well.
Snowy Owls are tundra and open grassland birds and they rarely venture into forested areas.
Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)
Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) - Larry Hitchens
The Long-eared Owl is yet another species that seem to elude our photographic efforts. Again Larry Hitchens has been fortunate enough to get a few pictures of this nocturnal feeder during an outing to southeastern Pennsylvania. He found this owl in southern Lancaster County near the town of Oxford just north of the Maryland state line. The owl was tucked deep into a pine with heavy backlighting. Larry did the best he could with what he had to work with on the above image.
I have not had an opportunity to observe this species in the wild, more-less had a chance to photograph one. I've followed the E-Bird and other birding reports for the surrounding counties and driven to the areas with reported sightings and hiked my share of trails through the woods with no luck at all. I have heard their single long "hoot" calling many times at night in the heavily forested areas near my home. I have even tried using a prerecorded call after dusk and in the pre dawn hours with no results. So this is another species I will add to my list of Owl-Prowls for the future.
Long-eared Owl Biology
The Long-eared Owl is a medium size woodland owl with the female having an average length of 14.6 inches and a wingspan of 39 inches and a weight of 10 ounces. Like most other owls the male is smaller with a length of 13.4 inches and a wingspan of 38 inches with his weight around 9 ounces. They are highly nocturnal with most activity occurring shortly after dusk and continuing into the night until the early dawn hours.
Breeding season begins mainly from mid March through May in North America. Long-eared Owls nest almost exclusively in old stick nests of crows, magpies, ravens, hawks, or herons. The females will lay 3 to 8 eggs, with the average clutch of 4 to 5 eggs. Long-eared Owls are usually single-brooded, however double-brooding has been observed. If a clutch of eggs is lost, a replacement clutch may be laid about three weeks later. The incubation period is roughly 25 to 30 days. The young owls will fledge after about 5 weeks.
Long-eared owls prefer heavily forested areas for nesting and roosting with ample nearby open range for hunting. Their favorite food source is the vole but deer mice and other small mammals are consumed as well along with small birds. The owl will also prey upon upland and forest species such as the pheasant and Ruffed Grouse along wit h smaller owls. Small snakes, frogs and fish may also be taken.