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Arctic life arrives in Oklahoma with snowy owls

There have been rare sightings of individual snowy owls in Oklahoma this winter. A successful breeding season in the Arctic has resulted in owls traveling farther south this year. [AP PHOTO]

There have been rare sightings of individual snowy owls in Oklahoma this winter. A successful breeding season in the Arctic has resulted in owls traveling farther south this year. [AP PHOTO]

Oklahomans might get the opportunity to see a rare glimpse of Arctic life as there have been recent sightings of snowy owls in the state.

Last Sunday, birders flocked to Lake Arcadia after news spread about a snowy owl sighting on the dam. One person also was able to photograph a snowy owl resting on a rooftop in Arcadia, and the picture was posted on the Oklahoma Ornithological Society's Facebook page.

It's rare for a snowy owl to be seen this far south, but an abundance of the owl's favorite food source on the tundra has led to a population increase and has more owls flying farther south to survive.

Lemmings, a little Arctic rodent, go through population explosions about every four years which coincide with big southward movements of snowy owls, according to the National Audubon Society.

The lemmings had a banner year on the Ungava Peninsula in Northern Quebec, fueling a highly successful breeding season for owls.

“In more typical conditions only the first young (of snowy owls) has a chance of making it,” said Norman birder Nathan Kuhnert. “With all that food supply, the second born young ends up living as well. When it gets time to fend for yourself there is not enough food which causes this big invasion (in the United States). They are stressed just trying to survive.”

Kuhnert said the owls are always seen in the winter in the north and northeastern United States, but it's rare for any to get as far south as Oklahoma.

Winter is a good time of year for bird watching in Oklahoma. Organized eagle watches are held across the state at places such as Lake Arcadia and Lake Thunderbird.

The annual Christmas Bird Counts also are underway across the state. Kuhnert took over this year as the organizer of the Christmas Bird Count in Oklahoma City, which was held Saturday. About a dozen more are scheduled across the state through the end of the year, including one in Cleveland County on Dec. 31.

This is the 118th consecutive year of the National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count. It is the longest-running citizen science survey in the world and provides critical data on population trends of birds.

Groups of birders armed with binoculars, spotting scopes, field guides and checklists comb 140 square miles in their assigned “circles” to identify and count birds. Other bird lovers spend the day watching bird feeders and recording data.

Kuhnert said birders will travel to Oklahoma in the winter because the state has so many species of sparrows that winter here.

Fall and winter bird watchers in Oklahoma also get a chance to see numerous waterfowl, whooping cranes that migrate through the state and every subspecies of red-tailed hawk.

Well over 400 species of birds have been documented in Oklahoma, Kuhnert said.

“It's a good place to bird,” he said.

Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›

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