[CT Birds] Fwd: [nysbirds-l] Snow Owls diurnal hunting

Jan Hollerbach smilifase at gmail.com
Fri Dec 6 16:08:06 EST 2013

Thought this was very interesting in light of all the discussions about the
Snowy Owls, their habitat, hunting and food sources.

Jan Hollerbach

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Richard Crossley <thebrit1 at verizon.net>
Date: Fri, Dec 6, 2013 at 3:51 PM
Subject: [nysbirds-l] Snow Owls diurnal hunting
To: New York Birds <NYSbirds-L at cornell.edu>

  I'm not sure where the thought that Snowy Owls are diurnal hunters comes
from. This is also a thread on other listserves and I am not sure how it
got started. In 'The Crossley ID Guide' it states they are
nocturnal/crepuscular and I have not noticed any other books mentioning
them to be diurnal hunters.
I was fortunate enough to be on the North Slope this summer and it was
quite interesting to see how birds seemed to have a 'night' and 'day' even
though there are 24 hours of daylight. Most species were noticeably less
active in the early morning hours ('night-time') and I never saw Snowy Owl
hunting in the 'daytime'.
Weather also has a big impact on behavior. When the weather impairs their
ability to hunt, particularly when it is windy, they will typically extend
their hunting hours, often in to the daytime. A calm day after several days
of bad weather is usually the best time to go looking for hunting Owls.
Recent work by Hawk Mountain Sanctuary using radio transmitters seems to
show that most Snowy Owls winter to the north of their breeding grounds on
the pack ice. Presumably they feed mostly on King Eider that are jammed in
on open leads of water offshore, much like the now famous wintering habits
of Spectacled Eider. This would explain why Snowy Owls have huge feet that
seem way too big for killing Lemmings - much better suited for larger prey
such as eider. I have heard this is a particularly severe winter in Arctic
Europe and my guess is that it probably is here too. Interestingly, there
are relatively large numbers of King Eider this winter - perhaps 'frozen
out' of the arctic. Coincidence that there is an influx of both species - I
bet not! We have a lot to learn, but doesn't that make it exciting?

Richard Crossley
Cape May, NJ
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