EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

December 7, 2013

What a hoot!

Birders revel in snowy owl visits


Sue McGrath, the director of Newburyport Birders, was at Salisbury Beach when one flew by so close the group of birders could clearly see its impressive wingspan of 50 inches.

“They really are just beautiful,” said McGrath, who during one outing this week spotted seven snowy owls between Hellcat and Sandy Point State Reservation. “When I have birders who’ve never seen one before, I can relive the feeling I had when I saw it for the first time.”

The snowy owl stands around 2 feet tall and weighs up to six pounds, making it the largest owl by weight in North America. While the male is almost completely white, the larger female sports dark scalloping. They eat all types of rodents, small animals, ducks and shorebirds – and the competition for food will be fierce this winter, Gette said.

During his recent Wednesday morning trip, the group spotted several top predators, including two bald eagles, one red-tailed hawk, and two rough-legged hawks in addition to the snowy owls. The snowy owls are expected to stay through February although some may move on to stake their territory elsewhere if food runs short.

“I would hate to be a rodent,” Gette said, laughing. “The snowy owls will eat anything, they’re very powerful.”

Anyone interested in trying to spot a snowy owl is invited to join the Wednesday and Saturday morning birding groups at Joppa Flats. The center will lend optics if needed.

“It’d be good for people to get outside and see something beautiful on a nice, cold day,” Gette said. “We don’t know if it will come again.”

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