There are many Snowy Owls Visiting Western NY This Winter.
Winter in Western New York can be difficult, but the frigid months are especially tough on wildlife. Animals not migrating or hibernating have to find other ways to survive until Spring.
But spending the winter here is not always a disadvantage. The American Robin is one of the region's most common birds in the warmer months, and most of the population migrates south for the winter. But some of the robins actually choose to remain here for the winter, and it might give them a wing up on the competition.
Connie Adams is a Senior Wildlife Biologist for the NY Department Of Environmental Conservation. "Migration is a very dangerous thing, and if they can survive the winter without migrating, there's food here, and our winters have been getting milder, then it is actually advantageous for them to stay, this is because when Spring does arrive, they are the first ones on the breeding territories."
Food is, of course, the driving force in surviving the winter, and the robins make a change in their menu from the worms and insects they love in the summer to fruit left behind from the fall harvest. Niagara County seems to be provide a particularly abundant smorgasboard for wintering birds.
Adams says, "There's a lot of apples and pears and peaches that are grown, and the drops that are left uneaten by many other mammals, deer, and they have been unpicked , provide a food source for these robins all Winter long."
There are some species of bird that consider Western New York to be the "Miami Of The North". Take, for example, the Bonaparte's Gull, a small, graceful gull that makes it's home in the Arctic, but can be found in huge flocks on the Niagara River during the winter. Once again, the search for food, scarce now in the tundra, drives the birds south.
Jim Landau of the Buffalo Ornithological Society tells 2 The Outdoors, "They're fish eaters, the Niagara River stays open year round, they feed on these little guys called Emerald Shiners or Smelt, or those kind of bait fish, and you see them in great numbers on the Niagara River."
The flocks can number in the thousands, and it's like watching an aerial ballet, an experience with these Gulls can be a memorable one! Landau agrees, "I'm talking thousands and thousands of them , and they're a glorious sight to see! They're just a nature's wonder to watch them feeding and wheeling around,and diving, and they have a beautiful little call. They're very pretty to see."
Not all of our avian visitors arrive in such huge numbers. Snowy Owls are also Arctic inhabitants, and they travel here alone or in very small numbers, flying in silent and solitary, but are no less spectacular.
Tanya Lowe works with Snowy Owls at Hawk Creek Wildlife Center. The best way to describe a Snowy Owl is that they are a powerhouse. They are built to live in an extremely harsh environment. They have feathering all the way down their toes, and live and breed in the Arctic, so it is an extremely powerful animal.. While they predominantly hunt lemmings, they have been known to take ducks and even Great Blue Herons."
Although it's not unusual to see Snowy Owls here this time of year, this seems to be a particularly good year for the species in Western New York. "It is pretty common for Snowies to come down to New York and New England in the winter" says Lowe, "although this year and about every four years we do get kind of inundated with Snowies across the Northern part of the United States with the Snowy Owls and they're more widespread, but is pretty common for them to come to the New York and New England area."
Finding all these birds is the challenge, and at the least, a day spent birding can be a great excuse to get out of the house during the colder months, but it can also be a chance to remind ourselves of the great wealth of life that lies just outside our doorstep. Lowe says, "A lot of people don't realize it, but we have such a rich diversity of animals in our area, and a lot of people unfortunately don't see that, a lot of times we're going form place to place in our daily lives."
Landau concludes, We're not isolated in the world, and we're not isolated in Western New York, either. We're sharing this with other creatures, and they're there to enjoy and appreciate, and watch and learn from and learn about."
There are a number of excellent websites to find both species that are visiting here and their locations. Here are a few; the Genesee Birds Digest, the Ontario Birds Digest and the Cornell Lab Of Ornithology website. Happy birding!