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Do Not Disturb: The Snowy Owls Have Irrupted

Visitors from the Arctic are visible in numerous locations, providing a rare spectacle. But please do not approach the owls too closely.

A snowy owl. Contributed photo, courtesy Anthony Zemba, CT Audubon Society
A snowy owl. Contributed photo, courtesy Anthony Zemba, CT Audubon Society
By Leslie Yager 

Snowy Owls have irrupted in the northeast this winter, invading in good numbers and providing a rare spectacle that is delighting birders and underscoring the region’s connectedness to events above the Arctic Circle.

In Connecticut, one of the best places to see Snowy Owls locally is Connecticut Audubon Society’s Milford Point Coastal Center, where one and sometimes two birds have been feeding and roosting for about a week. 

Snowy Owls have also been seen in Old Lyme, West Haven, Hammonassett State Park, Falkners Island, Stratford, Bridgeport and Westport. 

In nearby New York they have been seen around Jamaica Bay, on Jones Beach, Robert Moses State Park and on Fire Island.

Snowy Owls live most of their lives on the tundra but when their food – lemmings and other rodents – becomes scarce in winter, they fly south in search of more productive hunting grounds. These so-called "irruptions" happen every few years, the most recent being in the winter of 2011-2012.

“Snowy Owls are as beautiful as snow flakes, but as fierce as leopards. Most notable though, their presence throughout the northeast this winter reminds us that the Arctic is not as remote as we often think, and we are all more connected than we think,” said Connecticut Audubon President Alex Brash in a release. “Once again birds remind us of the fragility and interconnectedness of our planet.”

Because they are tundra birds, Snowy Owls invariably chose flat, open areas, especially beaches, for their winter roosting and hunting grounds. They arrive here exhausted and hungry, and need to save their energy for hunting.

“We hope as many people as possible get to see these spectacular birds but we urge everyone to keep their distance,” said Milan Bull, Connecticut Audubon’s senior director of science and conservation in the Audubon release. 

“It’s never a good idea to disturb birds just for the sake of  taking a photo or seeing them fly, but with Snowy Owls we know they are particularly tired and hungry from their journey," Bull said. "They need every bit of energy to survive the winter and make it back to the Arctic in time for breeding season.”

One great and easily accessible place to see Snowy Owls is at Connecticut Audubon’s Milford Point Coastal Center, at 1 Milford Point Road, Connecticut. From there, owls have most often been seen out on the point itself, which is visible from the observation tower at the Coastal Center building, or on the jetty near the mouth of the Housatonic River.

The grounds are open from dawn to dusk seven days a week, and the center building is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 4:00 p.m. 

Much of the land surrounding the Coastal Center is private or, like parts of the McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, off limits, so the best places from which to observe the Snowy Owls are the observation tower at the center building or the observation platform on the Long Island Sound beach.

Please do not approach the owls too closely.

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