Bird lovers are in for a treat this winter as Iowa is seeing a huge increase in snowy owl sightings across the state. The birds are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty act and generally live in the frigid climates found in the Arctic. Carroll County Naturalist, Matt Wetrich, says the creatures usually appear in Iowa during the colder months, just not in such large numbers.
He says the increase, while exciting, is not that uncommon. The primary food source for snowy owls is lemmings. These small rodents see massive population spikes about once every five to 10 years, and that increase in food is reflected in snowy owl populations. Wetrich says there is not enough space for all the new birds when they migrate south, and they end up traveling farther than usual.
Snowy owls are almost entirely white and quite popular among birdwatchers. Wetrich says it is okay to appreciate their beauty and has some tips to do so without disrupting the birds.
Wetrich is collecting data on sighting across the state for the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union to use for research on these population eruptions. He asks anybody who sees a snowy owl report the sighting to the Swan Lake Conservation Center by phone at 712-792-4614 or through the Carroll County Conservation Facebook page. A link to a map of the sightings so far can be found included below.