Nature lovers know that few signs of winter are as enchanting as the snowy owl.
These large white and brown speckled birds with piercing yellow eyes almost seem to bring the change of seasons with them as they leave their Arctic summer breeding grounds to find new territories this time of year, including included in Michigan.
Not all snowy owls migrate in the winter, but a particularly successful breeding season may drive some out of their frozen homelands, causing them to head south in search of more food and less competition.
In Michigan, snowy owls can be seen during the winter months in the upper and lower peninsulas of the upstate, although they can also be found in southern areas, depending on the year.
As an added bonus for bird watchers and anyone else delighted by these creatures, they are sometimes easier to see than other owl species, says Juliet Berger, Ann Arbor Town Natural Area Preservation Ornithologist and President of the Washtenaw Audubon Society.
“They usually show up in airports and on grasslands – large, open spaces that mimic the habitat they have in the Arctic,” she says.
“They’re also diurnal, which means they hunt during the day, so we see them,” she says. “They don’t hide in the woods; they are somewhere in the middle of a field.
But sometimes the long journeys of snowies from the North can come at a cost. Often the birds that are forced to migrate are younger, with little or no experience in successful hunting for food outside of their typical arctic territory. The migration itself can also be grueling: Many Michigan wildlife rehabilitators are no strangers to appealing for snowy owls found stranded along roadsides too weak to fly.
If you come across a snowy owl that appears to be sick or in distress, the best thing to do is to leave it as is and contact a local raptor rehabilitator, says James Manley, executive director of the new Skegemog Raptor Center in Traverse. . City.
“Being a tundra-breeding bird, snowy owls spend more time on the ground than most species,” Manley said. “A rehabilitator can help determine whether the bird needs help or not.”
And while it can be tempting to approach a snowy owl for a photo or a closer look, it’s best to leave it plenty of space, as it is with all wildlife. Onlookers who get too close run the risk of disrupting the owls’ behavior or interrupting their crucial foraging.
Instead, it’s best to keep a respectful distance and appreciate these nomadic birds for the beautiful seasonal visitors that they are.
“They’re super cool and mysterious just because of the way they look. They seem so from another world, ”says Berger. “They are emblematic of winter.
Michigan winter owl etiquette, what to know about spotting these majestic birds
9 Michigan birding trails to see rare winter birds
How to take a winter rafting trip on the Pine River in Michigan