newspaper templates - theme rewards

.

2014 Snowy Owl Incursion and One Unlucky Dog

February 5, 2014 Evolution and Biology 1186
Share!
Credit: Bert de Tilly, Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Bert de Tilly, Wikimedia Commons

Snowy Owls are being reported in record numbers this winter in the eastern United States. These occasional mass migrations are known as “incursions”, and this one is turning out to be one of the largest in history. So what has brought some owls as far south as Florida and even Bermuda? It turns out that this isn’t so easy to answer, and there are mysteries still to be solved.

With wingspans upwards of 5 feet, beaming yellow eyes, and plumage that screams, “I’m not from around here”, the owls have been a rare delight for birdwatchers. Since they’re active during the day, a necessity for creatures from the land of the midnight sun, they’re also fairly easy to find. What’s good for birders, however, is a bit dangerous for our four-legged friends. Take a look at this alarmed Facebook post from a pet service provider in a suburb outside of Washington DC:

***There is an arctic owl called the Snowy Owl that has migrated to this area that sees small dogs as prey!***

One of our client’s 15 lb Jack Russell was picked up OUT of the back yard by an owl and dropped when he struggled enough. He was BADLY injured with internal injuries and lacerations. This attack happened in the Village of Waxpool.

It is NOT nocturnal- it hunts day and night, and has a a singular “hooot” vs. the “hoo-hoo” that you normally hear.A Woofie’s team member has heard this owl in the trees near their house in the Broadlands. It will be here at least until the spring- March or April. This is a picture of the ACTUAL owl that attacked.

PLEASE SHARE SO OTHERS IN THE AREA CAN BE AWARE!

Woofie’s Pet Services, Facebook 2014/01/17

Jack at the Vet's office after being attacked by a Snowy Owl. Credit: Stream Valley Veterinary Hospital

Jack at the Vet’s office after being attacked by a Snowy Owl. Credit: Stream Valley Veterinary Hospital; visit their page for more photos and information.

I was a little skeptical when I first saw the Facebook post. While Snowy Owls are among the largest owls, a 15-pound terrier would outweigh even the biggest Snowy by more than double. The birds are undoubtedly powerful, but they typically hunt much smaller prey, so it’s difficult to find good estimates for what they can carry. Their smaller relatives, the Great Horned Owls, are known to carry prey 2-3 times their own bodyweight. Given that, it’s not so surprising that a big Snowy might take a chance on a 15-pound dog.

Snowy Owl zeroing in on prey. Credit: Terra Mater Factual Studios, PBS THIRTEEN, Magic of the Snowy Owl

Jack probably never saw it coming. Credit: Magic of the Snowy OwlTMFS, WNET

None of that matters to Jack, of course. He limped home with deep lacerations on his side and head just a few minutes after being let outside. The veterinarian would soon find a skull fracture and bruising around his lungs, liver, and kidneys. Nobody actually witnessed the attack, and it was thought that a coyote or car crash did the damage. But Jack’s injuries didn’t fit well with either scenario. A neighbor later identified the prime suspect, a Snowy Owl that had been seen hunting rabbits nearby. The owl’s talons fit perfectly to the lacerations, and Jack’s internal bruising likely resulted from being dropped.

Such attacks are very rare but not unprecedented, so pet owners should be on guard while the owls are in town. But what has brought them to town in the first place? The best place to look for the answer is with their main food source, Lemmings. Even if you’re not familiar with the animal, the term “lemming” probably rings a bell. It has become a metaphor for people who blindly follow popular opinion, sometimes to disastrous consequences. This is because of the Lemming’s curious mass suicide behavior, which was popularized by White Wilderness, an Academy Award winning nature documentary produced by Disney in 1958. The film includes a now infamous scene in which a group of Lemmings follow each other off of a cliff during a mass migration.

Faked shot of mass Lemming suicide. Source: White Wilderness (1958) Disney

Lemmings do not do this naturally. Source: White Wilderness (1958), Disney

However, those poor creatures weren’t jumping to their deaths on their own accords. The producers of White Wilderness had heard of the mass suicide behavior and, unable to film it in the wild, they built a turntable to shuffle the little rodents off the cliff. The whole thing was just a sad misconception. Some species do migrate en masse, which sometimes leads them to river crossings that they can’t manage. This fact combined with extreme fluctuations in their population led to the mass suicide myth. Ultimately, it’s these population fluctuations that are important to the Snowy Owl incursion.

Lemmings reproduce rapidly, and their numbers can explode unpredictably if food is plentiful. They may even multiply enough to exceed the carrying capacity of their environment, leading to population crashes down to near-extinction levels. This boom-bust pattern directly influences the behavior of Snowy Owls, who will eagerly consume up to 1,600 Lemmings per year if they are available. Perhaps as a direct result of their chaotic prey populations, Snowy Owls have the largest clutch size of any owl, lying upwards of 14 eggs. But it’s only during the very best Lemming years that so many offspring can survive. When food is scarce and they can’t all make it, the mother will feed dead chicks to the surviving siblings.

Cannibalism: As a brief aside, their grisly cannibalism belies the fact that Snowies are extraordinarily caring mothers compared to most birds of prey. “The Magic of the Snowy Owl” documentary produced by Terra Mater Factual Studios includes a heart-wrenching sequence in which a mother pays special attention to her weakest chick. She takes food for it from the others and goes to the chick when it becomes separated from its siblings. Such tenderness is very rare among birds of prey, which generally ignore weak offspring. One particularly harsh example is the Masked Booby, a seabird that always produces two offspring when only one can survive. The older chick immediately endeavors to push its weaker sibling out of the nest while the mother looks on. When it succeeds, the weaker chick is not helped back into the nest by its mother, but left out of the nest to die of the elements.  With this in mind, it was amazing to see this Snowy Owl display such caring behavior–even if the chick ultimately died and was fed to its siblings.

 

Given the extreme fluctuations in the availability of their main food source, it’s not so surprising that Snowy Owls might make periodic excursions into seldom-visited territory. If last year was a good one for Lemmings, many Snowy Owl chicks will have survived, leading to a food shortage this winter. That’s straightforward enough, and there is certainly a connection, but things still don’t completely add up. Take it from the experts:

“Movements not predictable, related in way not fully understood to abundance of prey species; thought to vary considerably from region to region… and intensity of movements fluctuates annually; … populations periodically irruptive … when lemming numbers crash.”

[Holt et al. 1999, Handbook of the birds of the world, volume 5]

Snowy Owl sighting map for winter 2013-2014. Credit: eBird

Snowy Owl sighting map for this winter. Source: eBird.org

It’s hard enough to know what’s going on with the Lemmings, and even with that information it’s not possible to explain why the owls migrate. When the owls do come south, they look for areas similar to their tundra homeland. They search for open spaces, like farms and coastal flats, where they can hunt small mammals and seabirds. Unfortunately for everyone involved, airports also look a lot like home to a Snowy Owl. By January 9th, 53 Snowies had already been removed from Boston’s Logan Airport. They might normally see just 6 in an entire year.

The most puzzling thing about the owls removed from Logan Airport is that they’re not at all malnourished. On the contrary, the owls are largely well fed and healthy. If a food shortage is driving them south in the first place, then we might expect to see leaner birds, struggling to make ends meet. This is the mystery surrounding the incursion. If the owls aren’t having trouble finding food, is it just overcrowding from a good reproductive year that’s led many into the South? What effect is climate change having? Temperatures are rising most dramatically in the polar regions, and the arctic landscape is changing rapidly. How this affects the owls is unknown. Is this year’s incursion just a freak event or might we be seeing the start of trend?

It’s fitting, I think, that such majestic creatures should still be keeping secrets from us. They appear without warning and disappear as they came, with no indication of why or when they’ll return again. So if you’re in the eastern United States, I encourage you to get outside while they’re here. The community website eBird can show you recent Snowy Owl sightings in your area, which is a good place to start. And if you have small pets, do take care that they don’t end up on the menu!

Snowy Owl in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Credit: Jeff Storey (2014)

Snowy Owl in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Credit: Jeff Storey (2014)

Write a Comment

106 Comments

  1. Joseph Balbuena February 5, 2014 at 9:03 am -

    Badass.

    Reply
  2. Andrew Harrold February 5, 2014 at 9:06 am -

    Richie Kennedy remember that seagull trying to do that with Ty?

    Reply
  3. Andrew Harrold February 5, 2014 at 9:06 am -

    Richie Kennedy remember that seagull trying to do that with Ty?

    Reply
  4. Stavroula Tsiklou February 5, 2014 at 9:08 am -

    Nature doesn’t have feelings. Only we do. Only the strong will survive. Neither the prettiest nor the wealthiest .

    Reply
    • Joost van Ginkel February 5, 2014 at 9:19 am -

      that’s not true, crows have been found to stand still for long periods of time near dead bodies of other crows (without eventually eating said bodies)

      Reply
    • Joost van Ginkel February 5, 2014 at 9:20 am -

      also the more humans take over the earth, the more species will evolve to either kill us or live with us. since humans are a big fan of everything that is cute, cute animals will be more likely to survive

      Reply
    • Brian Mora February 5, 2014 at 10:03 am -

      Nature definitely has feelings.Orcas,elephents,dolphins andmany more..but yes its survival of the fittest

      Reply
  5. Stavroula Tsiklou February 5, 2014 at 9:08 am -

    Nature doesn’t have feelings. Only we do. Only the strong will survive. Neither the prettiest nor the wealthiest .

    Reply
    • Joost van Ginkel February 5, 2014 at 9:19 am -

      that’s not true, crows have been found to stand still for long periods of time near dead bodies of other crows (without eventually eating said bodies)

      Reply
    • Joost van Ginkel February 5, 2014 at 9:20 am -

      also the more humans take over the earth, the more species will evolve to either kill us or live with us. since humans are a big fan of everything that is cute, cute animals will be more likely to survive

      Reply
    • Brian Mora February 5, 2014 at 10:03 am -

      Nature definitely has feelings.Orcas,elephents,dolphins andmany more..but yes its survival of the fittest

      Reply
    • Joost van Ginkel February 5, 2014 at 10:17 am -

      not per definition the fittest, the fittest only have the best chance to survive, it’s not a guarantee

      Reply
    • Joost van Ginkel February 5, 2014 at 10:17 am -

      not per definition the fittest, the fittest only have the best chance to survive, it’s not a guarantee

      Reply
    • Jeremiah Kimball February 5, 2014 at 2:58 pm -

      Wow. Just wow.

      Reply
    • Ashley Thacker February 5, 2014 at 3:02 pm -

      I can’t decide if she’s stupid, or just ignorant.

      Reply
  6. Jennifer Rodriguez February 5, 2014 at 9:09 am -

    Jack

    Reply
  7. Jennifer Rodriguez February 5, 2014 at 9:09 am -

    Jack

    Reply
  8. Jeremiah Kimball February 5, 2014 at 9:13 am -

    Ashley Thacker ↓↓↓

    Reply
    • Ashley Thacker February 5, 2014 at 10:00 am -

      Omg! Pretty or not, id b sitting outside picking off owls if that happened to my baby.

      Reply
  9. Jeremiah Kimball February 5, 2014 at 9:13 am -

    Ashley Thacker ↓↓↓

    Reply
    • Ashley Thacker February 5, 2014 at 10:00 am -

      Omg! Pretty or not, id b sitting outside picking off owls if that happened to my baby.

      Reply
    • Jeremiah Kimball February 5, 2014 at 2:58 pm -

      Word to that

      Reply
  10. Joost van Ginkel February 5, 2014 at 9:18 am -

    how i imagine all the people who like this think: “i like that dogs get attacked by owls, that is something i support and deserves my like”

    Reply
  11. Joost van Ginkel February 5, 2014 at 9:18 am -

    how i imagine all the people who like this think: “i like that dogs get attacked by owls, that is something i support and deserves my like”

    Reply
  12. Mason Macdonald February 5, 2014 at 9:26 am -

    Poor little bum.

    Reply
  13. Mason Macdonald February 5, 2014 at 9:26 am -

    Poor little bum.

    Reply
  14. Lorenzo Cervantes February 5, 2014 at 9:29 am -

    Very interesting post, thank you! My initial impression was that the snowy that attempted to take Jack was an inexperienced juvenile. After reading the post, it’s hard to say. Snowies are a spectacular species and one certain to be tested by the dramatically changing climate of the Arctic. We really should be studying Snowies more.
    Side note: thx also for the bit on lemmings. The GIF was sadly hilarious.

    Reply
  15. Lorenzo Cervantes February 5, 2014 at 9:29 am -

    Very interesting post, thank you! My initial impression was that the snowy that attempted to take Jack was an inexperienced juvenile. After reading the post, it’s hard to say. Snowies are a spectacular species and one certain to be tested by the dramatically changing climate of the Arctic. We really should be studying Snowies more.
    Side note: thx also for the bit on lemmings. The GIF was sadly hilarious.

    Reply
  16. Hernandez Greg February 5, 2014 at 9:33 am -

    That’s one tough pup

    Reply
  17. Hernandez Greg February 5, 2014 at 9:33 am -

    That’s one tough pup

    Reply
  18. Scotty Thomas February 5, 2014 at 9:33 am -

    … I need to buy an owl.

    Reply
  19. Scotty Thomas February 5, 2014 at 9:33 am -

    … I need to buy an owl.

    Reply
  20. Stavroula Tsiklou February 5, 2014 at 9:33 am -

    Joost van Ginkel that’s the human interpretation of crow behavior. There are so many aspects we do not comprehend and probably never will. Also “cute” varies and could be very subjective. :-)

    Reply
  21. Stavroula Tsiklou February 5, 2014 at 9:33 am -

    Joost van Ginkel that’s the human interpretation of crow behavior. There are so many aspects we do not comprehend and probably never will. Also “cute” varies and could be very subjective. :-)

    Reply
    • Joost van Ginkel February 5, 2014 at 10:18 am -

      i find that answer to be to easy. you say animals show no feelings, but dolphins have been found to risk their lives to safe humans, the gorilla the learned sign language once blamed his pet kitten for ripping out the sink from the wall, if it had no feelings it wouldn’t care at all that the sink was from the wall.

      Reply
    • Joost van Ginkel February 5, 2014 at 10:18 am -

      i find that answer to be to easy. you say animals show no feelings, but dolphins have been found to risk their lives to safe humans, the gorilla the learned sign language once blamed his pet kitten for ripping out the sink from the wall, if it had no feelings it wouldn’t care at all that the sink was from the wall.

      Reply
    • Joost van Ginkel February 5, 2014 at 10:19 am -

      also EVERYTHING WE KNOW is a human interpretation of the world, so that is a pretty meaningless statement

      Reply
    • Joost van Ginkel February 5, 2014 at 10:19 am -

      also EVERYTHING WE KNOW is a human interpretation of the world, so that is a pretty meaningless statement

      Reply
    • Joost van Ginkel February 5, 2014 at 10:19 am -

      “cute” is indeed subjective but that doesn’t prove or disprove anything…

      Reply
    • Joost van Ginkel February 5, 2014 at 10:19 am -

      “cute” is indeed subjective but that doesn’t prove or disprove anything…

      Reply
    • Steven Cavanagh February 5, 2014 at 10:32 am -

      just to point out we Humans are also Animals, all be an more evolved version of a chimp we have 97% the same DNA as them

      Reply
    • Steven Cavanagh February 5, 2014 at 10:32 am -

      just to point out we Humans are also Animals, all be an more evolved version of a chimp we have 97% the same DNA as them

      Reply
  22. Lacondrae Brownboi West February 5, 2014 at 9:36 am -

    Sweet

    Reply
  23. Lacondrae Brownboi West February 5, 2014 at 9:36 am -

    Sweet

    Reply
  24. Shannon Stankinas February 5, 2014 at 9:59 am -

    Poor puppy :(

    Reply
  25. Shannon Stankinas February 5, 2014 at 9:59 am -

    Poor puppy :(

    Reply
  26. Séamus Millar February 5, 2014 at 10:03 am -

    Tough dog, strong freaking Owl.

    Reply
  27. Séamus Millar February 5, 2014 at 10:03 am -

    Tough dog, strong freaking Owl.

    Reply
  28. Aaron Thornton February 5, 2014 at 10:18 am -

    This just proves that that isn’t really a dog.

    Reply
  29. Aaron Thornton February 5, 2014 at 10:18 am -

    This just proves that that isn’t really a dog.

    Reply
  30. Evan Clark February 5, 2014 at 10:21 am -

    It’s probably due to the SuperB owl.

    Reply
  31. Evan Clark February 5, 2014 at 10:21 am -

    It’s probably due to the SuperB owl.

    Reply
  32. Diego Pirajan Hernandez February 5, 2014 at 10:48 am -

    Darn owl post!

    Reply
  33. Diego Pirajan Hernandez February 5, 2014 at 10:48 am -

    Darn owl post!

    Reply
  34. Cindy Morrison February 5, 2014 at 10:57 am -

    Oh look That Happen A Very Hurt Dog is Attaick
    Owl Animals !

    Reply
  35. Cindy Morrison February 5, 2014 at 10:57 am -

    Oh look That Happen A Very Hurt Dog is Attaick
    Owl Animals !

    Reply
  36. Robert Arans February 5, 2014 at 10:59 am -

    This is without a doubt a brazen act of war against us by the owlkind. We must respond in equal force against them. I will ride for in the name of Crusade against the evil Snow Owls, what man shall join me?

    Reply
  37. Robert Arans February 5, 2014 at 10:59 am -

    This is without a doubt a brazen act of war against us by the owlkind. We must respond in equal force against them. I will ride for in the name of Crusade against the evil Snow Owls, what man shall join me?

    Reply
  38. Usman Mubashir February 5, 2014 at 11:02 am -

    Voledmort’s dead!!!!!

    Reply
  39. Usman Mubashir February 5, 2014 at 11:02 am -

    Voledmort’s dead!!!!!

    Reply
  40. Melody Kim February 5, 2014 at 11:18 am -

    Erin Elizabeth OO

    Reply
  41. Muriel Ellis February 5, 2014 at 11:23 am -

    Humans join other animals and, yes, even plants which experience pain.

    Reply
  42. Tim Davies February 5, 2014 at 11:44 am -

    with all that cold and snow im not to surprised

    Reply
  43. Jay Mallone February 5, 2014 at 12:24 pm -

    That explains the sudden increase in stray dogs at Hogwarts

    Reply
  44. Brandon Borchardt February 5, 2014 at 12:30 pm -

    @birds So when is their season open?

    Reply
  45. Dawan Milliner February 5, 2014 at 12:40 pm -

    This climate confused the specific species specific boundaries .

    Reply
  46. Debbie Leibee Piccirilli February 5, 2014 at 1:33 pm -

    They’ve been seen frequently this year in Rye, NH.

    Reply
  47. Aaron Van Meter February 5, 2014 at 1:38 pm -

    I know you’re all thinking “global warming” but this really isn’t that uncommon. This isn’t even the record breaker – it’s just like top 10 of like 100 or something. Sure, it’s rare, but it’s not new.

    Reply
  48. Beth Sanders February 5, 2014 at 2:34 pm -

    Explore the fascinating reasons why our behavior changes around other people: http://healthmad.com/mental-health/reasons-why-our-behavior-changes-based-on-who-were-with/

    Reply
  49. Siren Starbrite February 5, 2014 at 3:08 pm -

    Cat Nip

    Reply
  50. Allison Dickey February 5, 2014 at 4:32 pm -

    Sorry to hear this. I think my cat was taken like this (or coyote). Never saw him again :(

    Reply
  51. Kimberly Renee Vaughn February 5, 2014 at 5:05 pm -

    The reasoning behind this sudden incursion? An increase in acceptance of students to Hogwarts from the eastern United States. #OwlPost

    Reply
  52. John Keanberg Noel February 5, 2014 at 5:55 pm -

    poor dog !!

    Reply
  53. John Keanberg Noel February 5, 2014 at 5:55 pm -

    :(

    Reply
  54. Bill Gardner February 5, 2014 at 6:12 pm -

    Awww, poor thing. Almost had a meal. :-)

    Reply
  55. Michael Perlatti February 5, 2014 at 7:54 pm -

    Nature at it’s best and worst.Happens every day

    Reply
  56. Beverly Smith February 5, 2014 at 8:22 pm -

    Cross country skiers beware! They attack knit hats too.

    Reply
  57. Doug Wharton February 5, 2014 at 8:33 pm -

    Buy bigger dogs. Owls are awesome.

    Reply
  58. Michael Perlatti February 5, 2014 at 8:36 pm -

    Don’t forget to look down also.Sssssssssssssnakes!:)

    Reply
  59. Robert Pfeffer February 6, 2014 at 12:44 am -

    Damned bird, get me my shotgun

    Reply
  60. Shelly Ayala February 6, 2014 at 1:38 am -

    Shoot them critters, messing with our lil pups

    Reply
  61. Ashley Billings February 6, 2014 at 1:55 am -

    I’ve seen a video of an eagle trying to carry away a toddler

    Reply
  62. Dalton Crash Gray February 6, 2014 at 3:21 am -

    Maybe people should not have rats for pets

    Reply
  63. Dalton Crash Gray February 6, 2014 at 3:22 am -

    Ashley Billings that is a faked video for someones school project

    Reply
  64. Nicholas James Mullen-Butler February 6, 2014 at 5:46 am -

    Astronaut Pat

    Reply
  65. Marc Goddard February 6, 2014 at 10:06 am -

    Nawwhhhh Owls are amazing, poor dog though!

    Reply

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

(Spamcheck Enabled)

newspaper templates - theme rewards