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Snowy Owls Making Connecticut Their Home

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A snow owl perched on a metal post taken in Stratford in 2013. (Photo Courtesy Paul Fusco/DEEP)

A snow owl perched on a metal post taken in Stratford in 2013. (Photo Courtesy Paul Fusco/DEEP)

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Officials at the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection say Connecticut is being frequented early and often this year by a majestic winged arctic visitor.

DEEP Wildlife Biologist Jennie Dixon says, “It’s called the snowy owl. It’s a very large, impressive owl. It’s a little bit larger than the great-horned owl, which is one of the larger owls that we’re much more familiar with here in Connecticut.”

Dixon says the owls are mostly likely here looking for food, “We’ll get snowy owls that come down to Connecticut to find better hunting opportunities and maybe spend some time during the winter. We typically don’t see them start to show up until a little bit later in the season, but for some reason this year we’re seeing lots more owls and we’re seeing them a lot earlier than we normally do.”

Dixon says coastal areas like Hammonasset and Milford are currently attracting the most numbers of the pure white owls.

More on snowy owls in the region below…

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A snowy owl with an injured foot has been rescued near Interstate 95 in Rhode Island.

State Environmental Police officer Mark Saunders located and captured the wounded bird Wednesday after someone reported it to authorities.

State Department of Environmental Management spokeswoman Gail Mastrati says the bird appears to have an injury to one foot. It has been taken to a wildlife rehabilitation clinic for evaluation.

The owls live far to the north but are being seen outside their typical range this year.

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WESTERLY, R.I. (AP) — A University of Rhode Island professor says the high number of snowy owls seen in the state this year is unprecedented.

Ecology professor Peter Paton told The Westerly Sun (http://bit.ly/1bQCdL9 ) that there have been reports of snowy owls this year in Middletown, Warwick, Jamestown, Charlestown and Westerly.

Rachel Farrell runs the online Rhode Island birders’ network known as Pollypie. She says the current influx of snowy owls is one of the largest in recent years and may end up being of historic proportions.

Bird experts say the owls live in the Arctic, but many fly south when their population spikes or food sources are scarce. They say an unusually large number of snowy owls have been seen this year in the Northeast, Midwest and as far south as North Carolina.

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey says that over the past two weeks five planes at JFK, Newark Liberty and LaGuardia airports have been struck by snowy owls.

The agency released a statement Monday saying it is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to immediately implement a program to trap and relocate snowy owls that pose a threat to aircraft.

An unusual number of snowy owls have been spotted in the northern U.S. this year and have been setting up winter residence at airports, fields and beaches far south of their normal range.

Bird strikes over New York have been getting special attention since 2009, when a flight successfully ditched in the Hudson River after hitting a flock of geese.

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Snow-white owls with luminous yellow eyes are thrilling bird-watchers as the magnificent birds set up winter residence at airports, fields and beaches far south of their normal Arctic range.

Snowy owls, familiar to children as Harry Potter’s pet, made a noticeable appearance in the northern half of the U.S. in 2011. Bird-watchers recently report on eBird.org snowy owl sightings in dozens of locations across the Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states as far south as Cape Hatteras, N.C.

The owls live in the Arctic, but when their population spikes or lemmings are scarce, young ones fly south.

“Snowy owl populations are synchronized with their food source, lemmings,” wildlife photographer Lillian Stokes, who co-authors the Stokes bird guides, said Thursday. “If the lemming population crashes, the owls have to go south in search of food.”

A few snowy owls are seen in the U.S. every year, Stokes said. “But this year is phenomenal. People believe this could be historic numbers.”

It’s too early to say how large this year’s snowy owl invasion will be, said Denver Holt, a researcher in Charlo, Mont., who has been studying the owls in Alaska for 22 years. “In 2011, it was enormous, nationwide, with sightings in 35 states,” Holt said.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website says that winter irruptions, or large numbers appearing outside their normal range, occur in snowy owls about every four years. During irruptive years, snowy owls may winter as far south as California, Texas and Florida.

They’re easy to see because they’re big and white, are active during the day, and hang out in flat, open areas such as airports, farm fields and coastal dunes and marshes, where they hunt for mice, rabbits, waterfowl and other prey.

Jessie Barrie, a scientist at the Cornell lab in Ithaca, agrees it’s too early to say how this year’s irruption compares to the one in 2011.

“We’re just at the beginning of the invasion,” Barrie said. “It certainly is at a level that is pretty intense and exciting for bird-watchers, though. There are multiple birds in many locations, an indication of a strong irruption.”

Six snowy owls have been hanging out on one dock at Braddock Bay on Lake Ontario near Rochester. Stokes said she and her husband spotted nine on the New Hampshire coast last weekend. At least 20 have been reported around New Jersey, and birders flocked to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in that state on Wednesday to peer at a snowy owl there.

Barrie said reporting by spotters in the eBird database provides researchers with valuable information that will help them better understand the movements of snowy owls and other species. Because the snowy owl, with a wingspan of 5 feet, is so impressive, its appearance in an area can inspire people to get involved in bird-watching and citizen-science projects, she said.

“It’s a magical bird that gets people really excited about seeing birds and engaging with the natural world,” Barrie said.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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