'Unprecedented' Snowy Owl Numbers on Delmarva - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

'Unprecedented' Snowy Owl Numbers on Delmarva

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Photo Credit: Allen Sklar Photo Credit: Allen Sklar

SALISBURY, Md.- Every four or five years, Snowy Owls head south of their natural habitat in the Arctic region. It is something called "irruption." Here on Delmarva, there might be one or two sightings during those irruption periods, but this year, the birds are being seen in unprecedented numbers, and are traveling as far south as Florida.

From Assateague to Chincoteague, and all along the Delaware seashore, a majestic visitor is exploring new territory.

"The public is pretty excited about it," explained Carrie Samis, education coordinator with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. "It's the Harry Potter owl, so…"

Every few years, the Snowy Owls spread their wings and head south for the winter irruption, but this time around is different.

"This is probably the biggest irruption that we could see in our lifetime," Samis explained.

The question is: Why?

"What we're finding is that the food supply was so plentiful in the arctic that the snowy owls just experienced a really, really good reproductive year, so they had lots and lots of young, and they're strong and healthy and just flying south for a little bit," Samis explained.

Samis said this unique invasion is providing a great learning opportunity. She has been working with "Project SNOWstorm," a group of scientists fitting the owls with GPS transmitters.

"We'll be able to track their movement data, learn where they're going and for how long, what they're doing."

So far, two birds have been tagged. One of them flew from Assateague, spent a few days on the Delaware seashore, then headed to New Jersey, and is currently out of range.

"This is a great sort of citizen science opportunity," Samis noted.

An opportunity for anyone to become involved, by supporting the project financially, submitting photos to help with research, or simply following along with the data collected through the project.

"We'll better understand these owls than we ever have," Samis said.

If you want to check out the Snowy Owls for yourself, Samis said they should be here until late February, early March.

If you would like to learn more about these owls, there will be a panel discussion on Wednesday, Jan. 29 at the Ward Museum in Salisbury.

Visit http://www.projectsnowstorm.org/ for more information on Project SNOWstorm.

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