By Conservation Agent Phil Needham
Hedwig, the snowy owl of Harry Potter fame made a visit in Cass County recently. Well, to be honest it may not have been Hedwig, but an imposter, as the owl refused to talk during interrogation. What is certain is that a snowy owl migrating south got into trouble near Raymore.
Jim Whitaker, rural Raymore, looked out to see a big white owl on the pond dam of a nearby lake. When approached by the Whitakers, the owl did not fly off and seemed to have an injured wing. So Whitaker called his local conservation agent who the next day was able to take the owl into custody. It was a snowy owl and the owl was transported to Lakeside Nature Center for rehabilitation for a wing that was injured, but not broken. Hedwig’s injury diagnoses looks promising for a full recovery and a release from jail.
The bigger story may be what are snowy owls doing in central Missouri?
Snowy owls are primarily birds of the Canadian tundra, like way north of Churchill and Yellowknife. As birds of the tundra, they are adapted to withstand the snowy conditions of the artic. Adaptations for the cold are the white color to help blend into the snow, large, feathered feet to act like snowshoes and specialized feathers covering their nasal passages to help keep air flowing into the body and prevent icing.
Historically snowy owls would migrate down as far south as Missouri about once every 10 years. It has been more frequently of late. The reasons for a southern migration in winter seems to be around availability of food. When lemmings, a common artic rodent, are available the owls tend to stay to the north. Lemmings have cyclic population cycles and about every four tears go from abundant to few.
Time a lemming population bust with a bust of snowshoe hares and other prey and the stage is set for a winter migration to the south to find prey items.
As the owls migrate south from an area with almost no humans to populated areas, it brings dangers snowy owls are not well prepared to face. Humans, vehicles and powerlines are all things artic residents don’t see much of. Snowy owls are also active during the day which adds to the hazards they face.
So if you see Hedwig hanging around, enjoy the view, but give the snowy owls some space to assist them in making it through the dangers modern society poses to our friends visiting from the artic.