Menu ☰
Side Tracks

Wildlife on the Connecticut River – Snowy Owl Irruptions

Posted on February 12, 2018

Arctic Ghosts in Connecticut

Connecticut birdwatchers are enjoying a real treat — an influx of great snowy owls, a phenomenon known as an “irruption.” The ghostly white arctic birds have been spotted this winter in significant numbers along the shoreline as well as inland, and along the lower Connecticut River.

Snowy owls sightings have been reported at Stonington Point, Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Coastal Center at Milford Point in Milford, and Stratford Point, according to the Hartford Courant.  A snowy was also spotted in a park in suburban Bristol, and another in Haddam, hanging out on the pack ice just off Haddam Meadows State Park.Such irruptions of “snowies,” as they are known, is not all that unusual, scientists say. The winter of 2013-14 also saw an irruption of snowy owls in Connecticut. It was thought that these southerly migrations were prompted by a scarcity of prey in the arctic (lemmings and voles are owl’s preferred food.) However, with rodent populations abundant there, scientists now believe the migrations are a result of a highly successful breeding season, producing more birds which are compelled to seek new hunting grounds.

Snowy owls are mostly white with narrow, sparse brown bars and spots. Perhaps their most prominent feature is their golden eyes, giving them a haunting stare. They are among the largest North American owl species.

Winter is a great time for birdwatching on the lower river. With the leaves off the trees, it’s easier to spot and identify bird species. From December to March along the river, you’re likely to see perched on a solitary dead tree, or soaring high above the water, the snowy crest of another visitor from the north — Haliaeetus leucocephalus, the America bald eagle. These majestic birds fly down from Canada to fish in the open waters of the estuary. Eagles join a variety of winter ducks — crested mergansers, dusky coots, and snaky-necked cormorants, seen plunging below the water fish. Most striking are the red-throated loons, another symbol of the frozen north. It’s also not uncommon to see harbor seals frolicking in the icy river waters.
As for spotting a snowy owl, a longtime birder said to look for a knot of people bundled up against the cold, with binoculars and spotting scopes, all trained at something in the distance. It’s probably a snowy owl! Happy birding!

— Erik Hesselberg

There are still seats available on our Eagle Flyer Eco-Excursions Feb 17-19 & 24-25

Eagle Flyer


<< Back

  • Categories

  • Archives