Posted: Dec 24, 2013 1:31 PM
Updated: Dec 24, 2013 1:58 PM
COLUMBIA - The Missouri Department of Conservation says snowy owls are being spotted farther south and earlier than usual in Missouri.
"About once every four years, snowy owl sightings will peak in Missouri, generally in years when populations of their prey (mainly lemmings) crash," said Missouri Department of Conservation Wildlife Ecologist Brad Jacobs. "During these crashes, the birds travel south in search of food."
Jacobs said the number of birds is slightly higher as well, perhaps more than the 2011-2012 season when a record 69 snowy owls were spotted in Missouri.
Snowy owls normally inhabit the high arctic region of North America and Eurasia. Missouri is on the southern edge of their winter range.
Since December 1, Snowy owls have been observed at Smithville Lake in the Kansas City area, Kirksville, Trenton and Long Branch Lake in Macon.
Jacobs said drivers who see large, white birds standing on or near roadways should slow down, because the birds are not used to avoiding automobile traffic.
"Snowy owls are used to hunting in wide open spaces and often land on highways," Jacobs said. "Many of the birds will be focused on hunting and probably won't be quick enough to get out of the way of a speeding car."
Jacobs said people should not approach the birds or disturb them and suggests owl watchers look from a distance. Anyone seeing a snowy owl, is asked to call Jacobs at 573-522-4115, ext. 3648. Anyone finding a dead snowy owl should contact their local Conservation agent or office.