(Photo courtesy of Catarina Roberto via Will County Wildlife Facebook Group)
With every season comes the anticipation of wildlife lovers for a return from some of their favorite species, and one bird that's a rare treat to see has landed: The snowy owl.
On Tuesday, we had our first reported sighting in Will County this season, courtesy of one sitting atop a utility pole in Monee. The snowy owl was spotted by Catarina Roberto. The Forest Preserve District does not reveal specific locations (streets, intersections, GPS locations, etc.) of nests, owls or other sensitive species to avoid them being disturbed by the public.
Previously, there had only been reports of snowy owls in other parts of Northern Illinois on the Illinois Birding Network.
Snowy owls spend warm months above the Arctic Circle, but they head south to the Lower 48 states during winter to hunt for food, which typically consists of lemmings and other small mammals and waterfowl.
In 2017, we saw a snowy owl irruption, where a sudden influx of these birds hit the area. Ornithologists are still trying to sort out what exactly triggers large vs. small movements with these birds, but studies have debunked the myth that snowy owls are driven by starvation to fly south.
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While it is our policy to not disclose specific locations for these birds, we strongly encourage the public to do the same. If you should see a snowy owl, it's important to follow some basic rules when respectfully observing and photographing them.
Responsible bird-watching etiquette states that a birder’s presence should not change the behavior of a bird. If a bird is reacting to you, then you are too close. The International Owl Center also offers some good guidance.
If you encounter a snowy owl or any other type of bird or animal in the wild that is injured, the University of Illinois Extension has a comprehensive website, Wildlife Illinois, that gives information on what you should do. For instance, with regard to larger birds, the extension service says it's best to call an expert.
"Birds of prey (hawks, falcons, eagles and owls) and large wading birds (herons and egrets) should not be handled by the public because they can cause very serious injury," the website explains. "For help for other birds, call a wildlife rehabilitator for assistance. Note that not all rehabilitators are licensed to care for birds."
Contact information for wildlife rehabilitators, IDNR wildlife biologists and conservation police can be found on the Wildlife Illinois website. According to the website, local or conservation police should be called if an animal poses a threat to public health or safety.
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