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‘Highly stressed’ snowy owls descending upon Missouri. Leave them alone, experts urge

The Charlotte Observer logo The Charlotte Observer 12/9/2021 Kaitlyn Alanis, The Charlotte Observer

Snowy owls making an “unusual” winter visit to Missouri are likely “highly stressed,” and wildlife experts urge you to leave them alone.

The Missouri Department of Conservation says a few snowy owl sightings have been reported from the eastern and western parts of the state — “and more may be arriving as winter progresses,” according to a news release.

“People are asked not to disturb snowy owls,” officials said. “They are likely already highly stressed from trying to find food in unfamiliar habitat. Studies on dead snowy owls recovered in the Midwest during earlier irruptions were emaciated, likely due to their difficulty capturing food.”

Irruptions are what ornithologists, or bird researchers, call it when lots of owls move south of where they typically live.

“Their normal haunts are the Arctic tundra and northern Canada,” according to the news release. “The winter migration of snowy owls this far south is usually attributed to population crashes of their prime food, which is lemmings, or a large population increase in young owls.”

While rare, this is not the first winter snowy owls have descended upon Missouri. The state department says the large birds arrived in “noticeable numbers” during the winters of 2011-2012 and 2017-2018.

“Snowy owls are fascinating to see,” the department says, and while they typically only live in the north, you may already be familiar with the bird. Harry Potter’s pet, Hedwig, is a snowy owl.

“They are a large white raptor with a steadfast demeanor,” officials said. They are also one of the largest owls with wingspans reaching up to 4-feet long.

Snowy owl sightings

Experts say a female snowy owl was spotted on Dec. 2 at Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge, near Mound City. She was seen on the refuge headquarters building from sunrise to sunset before she flew away.

A different snowy owl was seen at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, north of St. Louis, according to the news release.

And on Dec. 6, a Cass County Conservation Agent Phil Needham attempted to rescue a snowy owl found near Raymore, south of Kansas City.

The conservation agent was alerted to the owl after citizens reported seeing the injured bird, officials say. The owl, unable to fly, had a “badly injured wing.”

Needham caught the owl and brought it to Lakeside Nature Center, according to the news release.

“It’s the neatest thing I’ve ever held,” Needham said. “It has big snowy white feathers on the feet like snowshoes, feathers around the beak to keep that area where it breathes from freezing. It has that big white color and big golden eyes.”

Unfortunately, experts say euthanasia was the owl’s “best option,” as it had a dislocated wing that could not be treated.

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