[CT Birds] Snowy Owl harassment at Long Beach

Julie Hart julieannhart at gmail.com
Sun Dec 3 20:59:40 EST 2017

This morning my husband and I went to Long Beach to look for the King Eiders (success!) and were pleasantly surprised to find 2 Snowy Owls on one of the jetties. When we arrived, we observed a group of photographers observing and photographing the owls. One woman walked out much farther than the others to get a better shot. Soon after, one of the owls flew off to the other side of the dunes. While we walked closer to the jetty where the remaining owl was, this same woman walked to where the spooked owl landed. We then observed her approach the owl closer and closer until it finally flew off into the marsh. 

Please speak up if you see someone disturbing birds. I regret that I didn’t walk over to this woman and ask her to step back. Afterwards, I was not shy about asking the passing fisherpeople to walk inland around the remaining owl, which they were willing to do. Also, if you are a birder or wildlife photographer, please get to know the behavior of the birds you are observing. There are often warning signs that you are getting too close—they straighten up, look in your direction, adjust their wings and feet, etc. If you see these signs, please increase your distance. It’s energetically costly for birds to keep flying to new perches and when this happens frequently it can lead to starvation. This is the same reason dogs are kept off beaches well after the summer breeding season; we don’t want the migrating shorebirds to keep being flushed and using up the fat stores that they should be using to fly south. Birds have enough threats that they don’t need more disturbance from well-meaning bird enthusiasts.

I realize that most people on this list already know these things, but maybe we (me included) can be more vigilant if we see new birders and photographers who aren’t aware and gently educate them. There will surely be more Snowy Owls this winter and they are such magnificent birds that they are likely to attract newcomers. There were a few of us birders who were too shy to approach this woman, but, really, striking up conversation with a stranger for a minute or two seems worth it to prevent harassment of some sensitive species.


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