It's rare for snowy owls to be seen in big numbers. It's even rarer for the event to happen two years in a row, like what's happening now. Last winter, 170 of the birds were sighted around Wisconsin. This time, the number has risen to over 200 and the snowy owls keep coming.
Arctic natives, snowy owls are fond of wide open spaces so they are mostly seen in farmlands and airports. But it's not the wide open spaces of the United States that attracts them to the country--it's the abundance of food. Lemmings are their favorite but snowy owls will also eat small rodents of all sorts. When the opportunity arises, waterfowl, ducks, pigeons, weasels and rabbits are also fair game.
This abundance of food is potentially the reason as well why snowy owls flocked to the country last winter. Because the birds had a lot to feed on, this also supported a population boom. With a lot of snowy owls in one place, it's no wonder that some will stray away from their home, searching for food and space in other places.
This means there's definite competition within snowy owls, but an important takeaway from this is that the bird has a thriving population. If they find adequate food in an area, it's possible for them to stay for days or even weeks.
Unfortunately, their presence can be troubling, most especially in airports where they can hit and be hit by airplanes. The Federal Aviation Administration put cases of snowy owl strikes to 84 between 1990 and 2012. The number of incidents may be unremarkable but snowy owls are not small, growing up to have wingspans of up to five feet so the damage they cause to aircraft can be significant.
A snowy owl was spotted at the Reagan National Airport and personnel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have not been able to get rid of it. Since scaring the owl with fireworks didn't work, USDA staff used a circular net that snaps in half to trap the bird or a box trap with an animal decoy.
According to USDA spokesperson Carol Bannerman, over 95 percent of the time, the agency's personnel are able to relocate or chase away birds from Washington-area airports instead of killing them.
Snowy owls are active any time of the day but can be mostly seen in the late afternoon in a suitable habitat.