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Snowy Owls Invading Cape and Islands

Bonanza for birdwatchers: There's never been a better time to spot snowy owls on Cape Cod and the Islands, where the Arctic predators are wintering in what wildlife experts like WCAI's Vern Laux say are unprecedented numbers.

"It was exhilarating," said 12-year-old Charlie Moore of Marin County, Calif., after spotting his first snowy owl Sunday morning at the FARM Institute on Martha's Vineyard. (Louisa Hufstader photo)
"It was exhilarating," said 12-year-old Charlie Moore of Marin County, Calif., after spotting his first snowy owl Sunday morning at the FARM Institute on Martha's Vineyard. (Louisa Hufstader photo)
It is the winter of the snowy owl on the Cape and Islands.

Our terminal-moraine landscape includes broad, tundra-like plains, beaches, pastures and airfields that have attracted what ornithologists are calling an unprecedented invasion of the white-feathered Arctic predators this year. 

"It was exhilarating," said 12-year-old Charlie Moore of Marin County, Calif., after spotting his first snowy owl Sunday morning at the FARM Institute on Martha's Vineyard.

Snowy owl reports have been coming in since early December.

"The species has been reported from beaches all over the Cape and Islands and it seems no beach or headland in the region has not had owls reported," said Nantucket-based ornithologist Vern Laux Dec. 18 on Cape and Islands NPR station WCAI's "Weekly Bird Report" program.

This year's influx of owls, known as an irruption, "is already of historic proportions," Laux said.

Snowy owls live in the Arctic circle where they prey on ground rodents like rats and mice and waterfowl which the owls pursue and catch in flight. In colder months, they travel south, where they favor airports and other treeless open spaces.

Strikingly large and white, their forms can easily be spotted in an open field, even from a distance. And you can see them all day long, because snowies are not nocturnal like most owls: They need to be able to operate by daylight in the Arctic, where in summer the sun shines day and night, Laux told his WCAI audience.

While the snowy owl tends to keep its distance, binoculars or a spotting scope can bring the majestic creature into closer view, and some Island photographers have captured breathtaking images of these stately winter visitors.

Have you seen snowy owls in Falmouth? Where did you observe them and what were they doing? Tell us in the comments.

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