Birders may catch a glimpse of more snowy owls this winter, as more than a dozen have already been spotted throughout Rhode Island since Thanksgiving. Typically, only a few snowy owls are seen throughout the state this time of year.
Snowy owls live in the Arctic tundra. Lauren Parmelee, senior director of education programs at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, a bird conservation group, said the number of snowy owls in Rhode Island depends on how many baby owls survive.
In the Arctic tundra, snowy owls lay more eggs in the spring if the lemming population is high. More food available also means more baby owls can survive. When winter comes, food becomes more scarce, and with more owls around, competition for that food amps up.
"The adult birds become very territorial about their winter area because food is limited in the winter because of the deep snow, so they’ll pressure the young birds to move (elsewhere)," Parmelee said.
Parmelee said Canadian scientists have reported that lots of young were born this past mating season.
Some of those young birds are finding their way to New England. So far, they've been spotted in places such as Narragansett, East Greenwich and on Block Island.
Parmelee said dozens more snowy owls may make their way down to Rhode Island from now until February.
The Audubon Society of Rhode Island said if residents see snowy owls, do not feed them; give them about 200-300 feet of space and watch the birds through binoculars; and do not observe them for too long because that stresses out the bird.