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Snowy owls fly south for the fall

Snowy owls, the big, white birds that nest in the Arctic and sometimes fly south in the fall and winter, have begun showing up in Wisconsin over the last week, captivating wildlife watchers and raising questions among scientists.

About 30 snowy sightings were reported through Wednesday in Wisconsin, according to Ryan Brady, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources who oversees the Wisconsin eBird website.

The reports are earlier in the season and higher in number than any year on record.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Tom Erdman, curator of the Richter Museum of Natural History at UW-Green Bay who began conducting snowy owl research in Wisconsin in the late 1950s. “It’s causing us to ask ‘Why?”

The first snowy of the season was sighted Oct. 15 near Ashland in Bayfield County on Lake Superior. The next day one was seen in Crawford County in southwestern Wisconsin. On Tuesday lone snowies were reported in Kohler and Milwaukee.

And on Cat Island in Green Bay earlier this week, six snowies were seen at once, Erdman said.

Last year, the first snowy was reported in Wisconsin on Nov. 1. In 2013, the initial observation was Nov. 15.

In recent decades, the first snowies have typically appeared in Wisconsin in mid-November, Brady said.

“This year is completely taking people by surprise,” Brady said.

So far this fall, snowy owls have been reported in the western Great Lakes region, but none in the eastern U.S.

 

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