by Carolyn Marsh
Photo: David Gruver, Whiting Lakefront Park
No doubt, many people became aware of the existence of the Snowy Owl from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. Harry had a companion pet Snowy Owl named Hedwig that made the real owl famous.
Last winter I saw the Snowy Owl on the boat launch breakwall in Whiting Lakefront Park on Dec. 26, 2015. It made the day perfect as it was the same day of the Sand Ridge Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC). The local count is connected to the National Audubon Society CBC, now in its 117th year. It is the longest-standing survey of overall bird population trends worldwide. The owl was added to the list of birds seen in Hammond and Whiting that day that totaled 39 different species of birds. A few lucky people in different places around town also saw the owl that stayed for many weeks.
Male adult Snowy Owls are almost pure white, while females have more flecks of black in the white feathers. The Whiting owl pictured here appeared to be a juvenile female as females and young birds have some dark spots. The young are heavily barred on the top of the head and body.
An undisturbed owl will sit in the same spot for hours, occasionally swiveling their head and staring with big yellow eyes. This owl is unlike most owls since it hunts during the day and night. They like wide-open spaces such as beach dunes or perch atop telephone poles and buildings. At Lake Michigan, the owl is likely to eat rodents, rabbits, squirrels, and ducks captured on the ground or the surface of water using their sharp talons.
Snowy Owls regurgitate indigestible bones, fur, and feathers into pellets. I have found pellets on the Hammond and Calumet Park fishing piers. The pellets were donated to the Field Museum for study.
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