Searching for owls can be an exhilarating and memorable activity for the family, but don’t just let your expectations that owling has to happen at night hinder your desire to find these incredible creatures. Recently, I took my two and a half year old out with our binoculars and went in search of snowy owls. Being in Michigan we are in their wintering range and are lucky enough to have a few migrate into the state each year. Snowy owls, unlike most other owls, are not nocturnal. They are what is called diurnal, or active during the daytime; this makes these amazing raptors all the more amazing! They are also a rarity for birders so when one has been spotted almost everybody in the birding community knows about it.
We found out about the two snowy owls that were about thirty minutes away from our home using ebird. It’s an online community where people can help track and report bird sightings that they experience. I had been watching the snowy owl alerts to find one that had been spotted in our area to take my little birder in search for. This list is a great resource since it tracks number spotted, date and time, location (with google map option), county and state/province. Once I had seen one pop up a couple of times close to our home we pulled up google maps with the location of the most recent sighting and headed out in our car. Another fantastic part about owling for snowy owls is that you can do it from your car; perfect for any little birder in training.
Once we were within a couple of miles of the most recent sighting we slowed our car down to about 20 mph. Snowy owls are from the arctic so they settle in farm fields in Michigan which is great because most of the fields are surrounded by slow traffic areas and dirt roads making it less hazardous to drive at a slower speed. We scanned the fields keeping our eyes out for a weird shaped pile of snow and we found her within five minutes (approximately one mile away from the most recent sighting). Unfortunately, she was far off in the distance and my toddler was unable to see her. I took a picture through my binoculars but I was really hoping to give my daughter the chance to see the real deal. We sat on the side of the road with our hazard lights on hoping that the beautiful bird would fly closer or even up onto a telephone pole when an older birding couple parked behind us. They hopped out of the car after looking for the snowy owl for a few minutes and we pointed them in the right direction. They were so excited we helped them find the owl that they set up their spotting scope and let my daughter view the owl up close and personal. It was an amazing sight to watch her finally see the snowy owl we drove over a half an hour to see!
We spent a few more minutes on the side of the road reporting our find to ebird to let other birders know the owl was still around and then we headed off toward the highway, exhilarated that we had met our goal. As we drove I still had my eye on the telephone poles, another noted location for finding snowy owls, when we ran across a male sitting proud on a pole close to the road. We pulled off to the side and my daughter got the chance to see a snowy owl without any assistance from binoculars or a spotting scope. She was so elated about our second find that we immediately had to call her grandma and grandpa to report the big news.
If you live in the northern regions of the United States or southern regions of Canada, take the opportunity this winter to go on a little road trip in search of snowy owls. You’ll be amazed at their grace and beauty if you are lucky enough to find them!!!