Steeves/Trail Mix: Hungry snowy owls invade Kelowna

Uncommon sightings of snowy owls around the Central Okanagan have become common as food supplies further north crash.

This snowy owl spent hours on an Okanagan rooftop Thursday morning. Though watchful

Bone up on your mouse-catching skills and get ready to provide some emergency help for our invasion of snowy owls.

A food crash in the north has resulted in an unusual number of the northern raptors making their way into the Kelowna area this fall, and many are not in very good shape.

Local birding expert Chris Charlesworth says every 15 to 20 years there is a cyclical crash in the population of lemmings and voles in the north, leaving snowy owls short on feed.

As a result, they’ll migrate further south than usual, but, because they’re in unfamiliar habitat, finding feed isn’t easy, and it’s complicated by their precarious condition.

Chris reports seeing one hit by a car while others have been seen sitting in parking lots, not even moving when a person approached.

Most years, he says he’s been lucky to see one, and this year he’s seen seven or eight in the past couple of weeks.

The inhabitant of a neighbouring cubicle in my cube farm here spotted one on a neighbour’s roof and took a pic. She was surprised he permitted her to be so friendly.

Local naturalist Scott Alexander dropped by this week in some excitement, to say he was having a raptor day: he’d spotted a snowy owl, a big rough-legged hawk and a great grey owl within an hour or two along the lake. (Incidentally, he’s now outdoor education director at Silver Lake Camp, operated by the Y.)

Wayne Wilson, recently retired as executive-director of the Kelowna Museums and now executive-director of the Central Okanagan Land Trust, reported spotting a cormorant on one of the bridge’s light standards earlier in the week.

Others also reported spotting it on the bridge for a few days as well, so I guess he isn’t crazy.

Apparently, they are not uncommon just a few hours south of us, so occasionally they’ll overshoot their destination and end up in the Okanagan.

Chris says a blue jay, not B.C.’s provincial bird, the cheeky steller’s jay, but the eastern cousin, has been seen in the Glenmore area of Kelowna, and a couple of Anna’s hummingbirds have also been spotted around the city still.

Sometimes winters are mild enough that they manage to survive, but often January’s cold is simply too much for them.

He would love to be able to include one in the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which he has been coordinating for many years here in Kelowna, so if you spot one, give him a call, at 718-0335.

That’s also the number to call if you’re interested in participating in this year’s count, set for Dec. 15.

There’ll also be a FeederWatch component  so if you’ve been keeping your feeder topped up, you can participate by watching and counting the numbers of each species of birds you can identify in your yard, without even moving from your easy chair.

By the end of the day, report in with the largest number of each species spotted at one time, so you’re not double counting any.

Boundaries for the Kelowna count are downtown Westbank to the south end of Duck Lake; the base of Black Mountain to just past Bertram Creek.

Remember, if you’re feeding birds this winter, don’t start if you can’t continue, or you could endanger the lives of those who have become accustomed to your banquet, when you withdraw it.

Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Capital News.

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