Why are Snowy Owls in Northeast Ohio? How long will they stay?


(Photo Credit: Tony Bruno)

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CLEVELAND — There are some rare visitors frequenting the Lake Erie shoreline, and bird enthusiasts across Northeast Ohio can’t get enough.

We’re talking about Snowy Owls, and other rare species of birds that aren’t typically seen around the area.

So, why are they here? How long will they stay? And, where can you see them?

Naturalist Jen Brumfield with the Cleveland Metroparks answers those very questions, below:

Why are Snowy Owls visiting Northeast Ohio?

They’re here because of a biological phenomenon called an irruption. An irruption is an invasion: larger than normal numbers of a species showing up in areas where they are not normally found in big numbers. Snowy Owl irruptions happen for two main reasons: 1) prey on their wintering grounds is extremely few and far between, and so they must journey far to the south to find adequate food to survive the winter. 2) prey was extremely abundant during the summer, and Snowy Owls had an incredibly successful nesting season, raising multiple young. When it came time to set up wintering territories, hundreds upon hundreds of young Snowy Owls were booted out by adults that had already claimed those wintering territories, and so they must journey far to the south to find adequate food to survive the winter. It appears that the 2017/2018 Snowy Owl irruption happening now, all over the Great Lakes and Northeast US is because of abundant summer prey, high number of young birds moving south to claim wintering grounds.

Why are they on ice?

Snowy Owls and other raptors don’t feel the cold on their feet like we do because of how blood moves through their system.  The birds are out there on the ice flows looking for food.

How many have been seen?

This year, they starting showing up right before Thanksgiving, and numbers steadily rose. In the beginning of December, Cleveland Metroparks had received reports of 18 individuals within two weeks, between Edgewater Park east to Euclid Beach/Wildwood Park. Lorain Harbor has had up to five, Fairport Harbor between four and six, and some have made it as far south as Holmes County, Marietta Ohio, and even Oklahoma! 

How many are here?

We are closing in fast on nearly 50 individuals in the state just in the past couple of weeks. Typically the entire state sees a half dozen or less during an entire winter.

How long will they stay?

They’ll likely spend the winter here, and be observed all the way through March and early April. Typically they depart in late March through early April, heading back to the far north to spend the summer.

Where can you view them?

Look for Snowy Owls sitting on top of light posts, power poles, and signs along the lakefront. Some of the top sites to look in Cleveland Metroparks: Edgewater Park pier and rocky shore, Edgewater beach, Edgewater Marina breakwall and piers, Whiskey Island Marina breakwall, the outer breakwall off of Wendy Park, the marina and outer breakwall off of East 55th, and the marina and breakwalls off Gordon Park. The beach and pier, breakwalls at Euclid Beach/Wildwood Park. Additionally, we’ve seen Snowy Owls recently from the East 9th Street Pier, looking east towards Burke, and north to the outer breakwall. Some have been found and photographed by wildlife photographers and fishermen/women in boats along the Cleveland harbor breakwall. 

**To read more about Snowy Owls, click here**

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