LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Arkansas Game and Fish) -- This week's bird will be the Snowy Owl! This bird is listed in Arkansas as a "Winter Vagrant, Very Rare", and there is one right here in Little Rock right now!
The regal Snowy Owl is one of the few birds that can get even non-birders to come out for a look. This largest (by weight) North American owl shows up irregularly in winter to hunt in windswept fields or dunes, a pale shape with catlike yellow eyes. They spend summers far north of the Arctic Circle hunting lemmings, ptarmigan, and other prey in 24-hour daylight. In years of lemming population booms they can raise double or triple the usual number of young.
Snowy Owls are impossible to mistake for anything else in Arkansas. They are large white birds with varying amounts of black or brown markings on the body and wings. On females this can be quite dense, giving the bird a salt-and-pepper look. Males tend to be paler and become whiter as they age. The eyes are yellow. Male Snowy Owls are barred with dark brown when they're young and get whiter as they get older. Females keep some dark markings throughout their lives. Although the darkest males and the palest females are nearly alike in color, the whitest birds-including the ones that played Harry Potter's Hedwig-are always males and the most heavily barred ones are always females. The one in Little Rock right now has lots of dark barring and is likely a juvenile.
Unlike most owls, Snowy Owls are diurnal, extremely so. They'll hunt at all hours during the continuous daylight of an Arctic summer. And they may eat more than 1,600 lemmings in a single year.
When you announce a very rare bird like this, lots of people will want to go and try to find it, and lots of people are very selfish-minded and fixated on "How close can I get so I can get a better photo" without regard to the well-being of the bird, or trying not to frighten the bird away so others can see it.
Keep these in mind:
• To avoid stressing birds or exposing them to danger, exercise restraint and caution during observation, photography, sound recording, or filming.
• Before advertising the presence of a rare bird, evaluate the potential for disturbance to the bird, its surroundings, and other people in the area, and proceed only if access can be controlled, disturbance minimized, and permission has been obtained from private land-owners. The sites of rare nesting birds should be divulged only to the proper conservation authorities. (This is why I was reluctant to have it as the Bird of the Week, but it seems that the word has gotten out bigtime, and it is on Channel 7, Facebook, Nature Conservancy, etc....)
• Stay on roads, trails, and paths where they exist; otherwise keep habitat disturbance to a minimum.
• Do not enter private property without the owner's explicit permission.
• Practice common courtesy in contacts with other people. Your exemplary behavior will generate goodwill with birders and non-birders alike.