Southern New England seeing influx of snowy owls

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The number of snowy owls visiting Southern New England this year is higher than usual, and the reason lies more than 1,000 miles to our north.

Snowy owls are often very difficult to spot in Rhode Island but right now, they are everywhere.

“Occasionally there are irruptions of snowy owls, which means that there are large numbers of individuals coming down from Canada to Southern New England,” said Dr. Peter Paton, professor of natural resources at the University of Rhode Island.

Paton said the owls are mainly young, likely born this past June.

“In 2013-14, there was a huge irruption,” Paton added. “We had birds migrating down to Florida that year, the largest irruption in 100 years.”

These irruptions occur when their prey – lemmings and voles – are in high numbers in the Canadian Arctic. The owls travel more than 1,000 miles to get there.

Experts say so far this year, there have been 18 different snowy owls in our area. In a typical year, one or two will spend the winter in Rhode Island. They’ve been spotted in South County and even in Providence, as well as across the border in Massachusetts.

“They’re in coastal habitats,” Paton said. “They’re resting during the daytime and they are active at night, foraging.”

Locally, snowy owls forage on ducks. But the owls aren’t easy to find, unless you know where to look.

“They also like areas that are fairly open, they like to see potential predators coming toward them,” Paton explained.

The owls will typically stay in Southern New England through March and are usually gone by April.