Even non-birders are enthralled by sightings of large white owls in the region these past few days.
Against seaweed-draped shorelines the snowy owls are easily spotted with their beautiful white plumage. The white feathers allow the bird to blend into its Arctic habitat during breeding season.
The owl is an occasional visitor to Eastern Canada, with some scientists theorizing its arrival is due to the status of the Northern lemming population. One owl can eat more than 1,600 lemmings annually. The birds also eat rabbits, rodents, birds and fish.
Birders in LaTour, Baccaro, Pinkney’s Point, Avonport Dyke, Grand Pré, Port Royal, and Yarmouth have reported seeing snowy owls.
It is the official bird of the province of Quebec and renowned for its role in Harry Potter movies (Hedwig was Potter’s pet owl).
Snowy owls are diurnal, hunting at all hours in the continuous daylight of an Arctic summer.
Because they often sit right on the ground to hunt, they prefer rolling terrain where they can find a vantage to survey the surrounding area.
Some years, snowy owls can fly as far south as Texas and Florida.
These birds can sometimes be spotted due to the presence of agitated birds like gulls or crows swooping around them.
Ian McLaren, acting editor of the quarterly Nova Scotia birds and author of “All the Birds of Nova Scotia,” said there have been scores of snowy owl reports in Nova Scotia and throughout eastern North America.
“The bird society's website has had numerous images published by many photographers - for many of whom they are first sightings,” he said.
“A few of these owls appear here annually, and more in some years, but this is certainly the biggest invasion I've ever seen, both during earlier years in QC and here since 1966.”
He added that there was a big invasion in the West last winter.
Many of the snowy owls are lethargic and McLaren says there will undoubtedly be high mortality if there are not lots of voles. The owls can kill larger prey like rabbits and waterfowl if they are lucky.
NBC reported on Dec. 9 that snowy owls have been added to its no-fly list, shooting down at least two at Kennedy Airport and issuing an alert to kill any more that are spotted there.
The order to shoot them was issued after one flew into a jet’s engine while the plane was on the tarmac at Kennedy.
Click here for a video produced by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.