Snowy owls have been making somewhat unusual appearances in Missouri, delighting bird lovers and wildlife enthusiasts.
A sighting in West Alton, north of St. Louis, caused a stir last week. The Missouri Department of Conservation says online reporting by birders shows that several snowy owls have been seen across northern Missouri and a few farther south.
“But the visit from this owl species from the Arctic is not good news for the birds,” the department said, “as likely a food shortage in their natural habitat has pushed them farther south than usual, experts say.”
In the Arctic, snowy owls prey on lemmings. If the owl population is too large for the lemming population, some females and young birds are forced afield. It is called an irruption.
The Conservation Department said that the last time snowy owls appeared in Kansas and Missouri in noticeable numbers was during the winter of 2011-12.
Snowy owls can be 20-25 inches long with wingspans of 4 1/2 to 5 feet. They fly low to the ground.
Hedwig of the Harry Potter books and movies is a snowy owl.