Since the end of November, a snowy owl has been spending time on rooftops in the Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood. For those who are wondering, a snowy owl is not normally seen this far south and roofs are not it’s normal choice for a home.
A bit about the snowy owl
The snowy owl is the largest (by weight) owl in North America. They can weigh up to 4.5 lbs and generally range to just over 2 feet in height. Snowy
They are solitary creatures and do a lot of sitting. They sit still in the same spot for hours, occasionally swiveling their head or leaning forward and blinking their big, yellow eyes to get a closer look at something. (All About Birds)
They are fast (up to 50 mph), catching prey they find any time of the day or night – unlike most owls, they are diurnal. Their food source is primarily rodents but they will eat small birds and can catch them in flight.
A snowy owl’s normal range
We’re on the southern tip of the owl’s winter range. But 2020 is an irruptive year. The scarcity of food in its normal Canadian range can force them to migrate as far south as Southern Oregon. So how do we know this is an irruptive year? They aren’t the only bird species to be migrating south this winter. Pine siskins have been overtaking backyard feeders in vast numbers. Red-breasted nuthatches have also been seen in greater than usual numbers this year.
That explains why she (based on plumage, a white and mottled brown pattern, the owl is most likely a female, though according to Cornell’s Identification Guide, it could be an immature male) is in the area. But, why Queen Anne?
A temporary home
Prior to making the Queen Anne neighborhood her temporary home, the snowy owl was briefly seen in Burien and West Seattle sometime in mid October.
No one really knows. The biggest reason is likely available food and the perfect vantage from which to hunt. Rats, mice, and squirrels would likely be plentiful. With no competition and easy meals, roofs mimicking open areas of tundra where they nest, and no natural predators, why would she leave?
The Queen Anne neighborhood may be generally safe, but the urban setting does pose a risk.
Her food source: Rats and mice are likely her primary food source. Homeowners, rather than trapping rats or using a safer method of removal through professional pest management, may be baiting them with poison. That poison may take days to kill. Before that occurs, the dying mice and rats become easy prey. If she eats them, her health is at risk.
Fortunately, the Washington State coordinator for Raptors Are The Solution is working to educate people as to the dangers from using anticoagulant rodenticides found in many bait boxes. A local conservation specialist is monitoring the snowy owl’s behavior to catch any sign of poisoning. If detected, the owl can be given an antidote.
Unnatural predators: Hawks pose a threat. While they don’t prey on owls, hawks will attack over territory and for food.
How long will she stay?
We’re not sure anyone knows. It’s possible until the end of her winter migration period. Or her food supply dwindles.
The best answer though – she’ll leave when she leaves.
You can head up to her temporary home in Queen Anne to see her, take pictures, and take in a unique experience.
We had a chance to see her, and she’s beautiful. When we were there, some were taking pictures, others just watching her, and everyone was respectful (of each other – masks and distance; the neighbors – quiet and staying off private property).
As for the location, we’re leaving that to you to find. While we want people to have the experience, we’re being cautious. It’s our way of respecting her and nature, as well as the homeowners in the area.