This year is being called one of the most unprecedented snowy owl invasions of all time.
Since Nov. 16, when the first snowy owl was spotted in Kansas, more than 80 sightings of the birds have been reported. Kansas wildlife biologists say this may be only the beginning.
A normal year may garner one or two reported sightings of the birds from the Arctic.
“It is extraordinary and exciting. It’s unprecedented and never before been like this in recorded history, this kind of invasion,” said Mark Robbins, collection manager of ornithology at the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute.
The closest the state has ever come to seeing this many snowy owls was during the winter of 1974 and 1975, when 80 were recorded in Kansas – but that was at the end of a long winter.
There may be far more this winter.
“What we are interested in is what this next cold front will bring,” Robbins said. “We are wondering if this will bring loads more birds down here. There is more snow cover up north and, with the snow, it is more difficult for the owls to find rodents and birds for food. We think we may get another major movement down here.”
The snowy owl invasion has covered more than half the state, and the newest residents in Kansas have created a plethora of paparazzi opportunities. Newspaper and TV stories have helped create enthusiasm for the birds. And, on any given weekend, it’s not unusual to see a string of SUVs and cars lined up on Kansas’ back roads as people stare into spotting scopes and binoculars looking for the birds.
But that has some birders concerned. They fear people are getting too close to the birds.
The Hutchinson News recently reported that a Hutchinson man was able to get as close as 10 feet to a snowy owl before it flew off. It was seen in a ditch about three miles from Sterling. When he returned to the site later, it was sitting in a nearby field.
“A lot of these birds are starving,” Robbins said. “Many of these birds are barely getting by. Whenever we disturb them, we are preventing them from hunting. They are living on the edge. They are so starved from flying all the way from the Arctic. We should encourage people to stay a couple hundred feet away — minimum. Actually, that is too conservative: a good 300 feet and don’t go any closer than that.”
Read the complete story at kansas.com