Environment
3:40 pm
Thu December 22, 2011

Snowy owls travel southward in search of food, several Michigan sightings

Snowy owls typically live in the northern reaches of the arctic tundra.

Living year round in the arctic shows how tough these birds are.

But this year they've been traveling south in search of food.

The owls have been spotted in states such as Massachusetts, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

To see where they've been spotted in Michigan, click on the slides above for a Google Map.

So why are they flying down here?

Biologists think the growth in Snowy owl sightings around the U.S. is due to a drop in the owl's main prey in the Arctic - lemmings. Lemmings go through boom and bust periods, and right now, lemming numbers are probably down, so the owls are scrounging around here for rodents, rabbits, fish, or any other suitable food source.

Similar cycles occur with other birds of prey.

The Great Gray owl, which normally keeps to northern Canada forests, has been known to fly south when its food is in short supply.

Reporter David Sommerstein produced a story on Great Gray sightings in a piece he did for the Environment Report back in 2005.

It was a year the owls were flying south and was one of the biggest Great Gray owl migrations on record.

Take a listen to a "Rare Visit from a Northern Neighbor" - the audio file below.

I love hearing ornithologist Gerry Smith's reaction when he spots the "first Great Gray owl that's made it across the border."

"I'll be a son-of-a-gun. That is so... bler... I am now VERY enthusiastic! Hey! .... I'm going to get my scope..."

And while you're out, keep your eye's peeled for rare visit from another northern neighbor - the Snowy owl.

Here's one spotted in 2005 in Wisconsin:

We all should be so lucky.