KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Snowy Owls from the Arctic Tundra have been spotted this winter in rather large numbers, including three in the Smithville Lake area near Kansas City.
The large white owls that have black markings are not seen in this area, except when their winter food supply runs short in their natural home up north.
In recent weeks bird watchers have photographed three snowy owls in the Smithville Lake area. One was spotted earlier at the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge and at the Nodaway Valley Conservation Area. At least eight have been seen in Kansas and several in Iowa, said Mark Robbins, an ornithologist at the University of Kansas.
“This clearly is a huge movement compared to some years,” Robbins said.
Food shortages in the tundra are likely the cause, he said. Snowy Owls feed on lemmings in the tundra. They rarely appear this far south and when they do it’s because lemming populations have crashed and they’re forced to move south to look for food, Robbins said.
Most of the owls that migrate this far south during the winter won’t survive to make a return to the tundra in the spring, Robbins said. Some are already starved and too weak. They are used to a solitary life on the tundra with few humans and other natural predators, and they are not used to avoiding automobile traffic.