NatureWatch: Look for snowy owls this winter


While past snowy owl "incursions" south of the border (Canada-U.S.) suggest only a few will be seen this coming winter in Massachusetts, and probably just along the coast, Audubon (online) Magazine reports, "This year on Dec. 3, observers counted at least eight in the immediate Boston area, plus five visible from one spot in Salisbury, 13 visible from one vantage point in Rowley, and others at scattered sites on the coast."

With this many at this season, it might be worth our while to keep an eye out for them in our part of the world, too. One was seen at the Pittsfield Airport on Dec. 11 and another flying near Silver Lake in Pittsfield on Dec. 14. Oddly enough, snowy owls have made most news locally in the past, when taking up temporary residence on top of Pittsfield’s downtown buildings, where pigeons provide easy meals.

Since the Audubon Magazine report, additional snowy owls have been seen, not only in New England, but as far south as North Carolina and even Bermuda. The bird’s propensity for open spaces mimicking the vast open places in the Arctic often brings them to beaches, farmland and airports.

It is the airports where controversy arises. Before I go any further, let me say I would not like being aboard a jetliner that is struck by a snowy owl. I do suggest that there are other means of lessening the danger, if in fact, these rare owls present any danger, other than shooting them!

The New York Daily News recently reported The Port Authority, the agency that oversees the city’s airports, has added the snowy owl to the list of birds it kills to protect airplanes from bird strikes, and started shooting the owls last Saturday, killing three at JFK Airport.

A for instance, Norman Smith of the Massachusetts Audubon Society has been catching and releasing snowy owls since 1981 at Logan International Airport in Boston. Since this past November he has caught 20. I would suspect that number has since risen.

Bird feeders (continued)

Last week, I discussed tube-style feeders, and while they have become the most popular, they are not the only style available.

Hopper feeders are a close second, and come in a number of styles that essentially keep seed dry and feed a small quantity at a time onto a tray at the bottom. These, in turn, are divided into dumb and smart seed dispensers. What I call "dumb" simply continue to dispense, even if a family of gray squirrels are greedily devouring expensive seed. The "smart" dispensers features a weight-sensitive perch that closes access to the seed tray when squirrels or large, heavy birds attempt to feed.

These can be stocked with mixed seed or single types like safflower or sunflower, or better yet, a mix of the two. This feeder will also accommodate cracked corn quite nicely. They can be on the large size, often 12 inches deep and as much as 16 inches wide, and can hold 12 or more pounds of seed.

The "dumb" hopper style come in a wide range of styles and hold anywhere from one pound to 20 or more pounds of seed of your choice. Some are decorative, with copper roofs or fired clay stoneware seed dispensers, while other resemble lanterns, lighthouses or gourds.

For a good part of my wild bird feeding career, I used inexpensive plastic hopper feeders that held maybe a pound of seed and cost less than $5; today, our feeders are all designed to defeat squirrels. I also offer some treats for squirrels, but nothing as expensive as sunflower or safflower seed. Our squirrels sometimes get corn, apples and less often, nuts gathered in the fall.

As I write this, more feeders come to mind. Perhaps later ...

Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email


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