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Snowy owls invade Cleveland lakefront
Eight snowy owls were spotted over the weekend as the Canadian bird heads south for one of two reasons

Mark Urycki
An immature snowy wwl at Edgewater Park. The mature birds have more white plumage.
Courtesy of Jeff Timmons of Indiana
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In The Region:

The buzz around Cleveland over the weekend was more about the birds than the Browns. Birders have been rushing to the lakefront to get a view of an unusual sight: a snowy owl. The big white bird made famous in the Harry Potter books and movies is showing up in northeast Ohio and all along the Great Lakes states.

LISTEN: Snowy owls head south

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The phone calls and e-mails are flying among birders who can't remember seeing so many snowy owls visiting from Canada.

“Just within a couple of days, dozens to hundreds were showing up in the Great Lakes region," says Cleveland Metroparks naturalist Jen Brumfield. "Basically, overnight in the Cleveland area, ... we went from having one ...  near Wendy Park to the next day having eight.” 

Brumfield set a new one-year record in 2012 when she spotted 270 species of birds in Cuyahoga County. But this, she says, is extraordinary.

An amazing opportunity
"They normally are found on the Arctic tundra this time of year, where they nest and then they spend the winter in the Canadian provinces, upper Great Lakes," Brumfield notes. But the birds -- looking like Hedwig of Harry Potter fame have "moved south in mass numbers. So this is an amazing special opportunity for people to see snowy owls in the lower 48 right now."

The birds -- mostly immature and with checkered coloring, rather than the snowy white of adults -- are likely here for two reasons.

Good or bad causes
“One of two things happening. This irruption could be based on a major crash in food sources, a major crash in lemming population. Or it could be based on a phenomenal nesting season for snowy owls."

Brumfield says the birds will move inland "looking for  whatever habitat they find. If they can survive there, they’ll stay for as long as possible.”

But she says this region will not become their permanent home. Cleveland winters can be harsh and this area lacks "what they’re used to hunting for. We do not have lemmings. (But) we do have gulls and geese and waterfowl that they’ll eat, rats, voles, mice."

Still, “we also are not that big, beautiful,wide-open Arctic tundra. There are a lot of people here, and habitat is few and far between.”

Brumfield says snowy owls are not likely to grab pets. But she warns curious people that the birds are stressed and it’s better if viewers keep their distance.

Listener Comments:

Thank you for this exciting story.

Posted by: Elizabeth Hendricks (Hiram) on December 3, 2013 5:12AM
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