2017-12-07 / Front Page

Snowy Owl Sighting Near Fort Littleton

Arctic-dwelling raptor wings its way south
By Cassidy Pittman

A snowy owl finds its perch on Plum Hollow Road. With decreasing food sources and changing migrating patterns, more of these majestic birds may be seen here. A snowy owl finds its perch on Plum Hollow Road. With decreasing food sources and changing migrating patterns, more of these majestic birds may be seen here. On the bright, sunny Saturday morning after Thanksgiving, Shayla Appleby was coming out the door of her Plum Hollow Road home near Fort Littleton when, to her surprise, she saw a large, snow-kissed feathery friend sitting on her fence line. Appleby wasted no time grabbing her camera to get some shots of the majestic bird but didn’t need to hurry. The snowy owl, which is native of Arctic regions, ended up taking an hour-long rest on the property before it took off to look for its next meal.

Snowy owls, a species of North American owls that are known for their bright white feathers and glowing yellowish green eyes, are the only species of owls that aren’t nocturnal raptors but instead hunt during the day. They are also less inclined to finding dark hiding spaces, and instead prefer wide open terrain.

Males, like the one pictured, can grow an average of 25 to 27 inches tall and have a wing span from 4 ½ to 5 feet. Females are a bit larger, and have a denser speckling of black or brown feathers on their body and wings. Most of the time snowy owls stick further north, occasionally coming as far south as Canada or Wisconsin. However due to climate change, their main food source, lemmings, has been dying off more rapidly. Because of this the owls are forced to fly further south to hunt for their food.

Why Pennsylvania? Although not generally known, the southern bog lemming is found in Pennsylvania, and Fulton County specifically, and is a distant cousin to the Arctic lemming. Southern bog lemmings, also related to the familiar meadow voles and deer mice, live under the safety of matted grass, corn fields, and fallen logs on the forest floor. Because of the snowy owl’s keen senses of sight and sound, though, they are an easy target. Much larger animals, like ducks, chickens, and even geese are also part of the raptor’s diet.

According to Project SNOWstorm, a national organization committed to the study and preservation of the raptor, this snowy owl may be the first of many to be spotted here. The Arctic predator has been creating a migrating pattern that brings it to Pennsylvania about every four years. The average amount of sightings for the species is 10 per year, but in 2013 there were over 400 sightings of snowy owls. Due to the abundant farm and protected land, the owls have been able to find a second home in this state.

There’s a lot of mystery and superstition around owls. In Native American folklore, the owl is a symbol of impending death. However, the snowy owl is the exception to the rule. Because of the purity of its white feathers, it instead represents an ascension of the soul to higher levels of consciousness. With the new year fast approaching, perhaps the presence of the snowy owl is a symbol of brighter times ahead for the community.

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