Great gray owls join boreal owls in MinnesotaDULUTH, Minn. — Northern Minnesota’s phenomenowl winter continues. Boreal owls and now great gray owls have come south from Canada’s boreal forest seeking food.
By: Sam Cook, Forum News Service
DULUTH, Minn. — Northern Minnesota’s phenomenowl winter continues. Boreal owls and now great gray owls have come south from Canada’s boreal forest seeking food.
Such a movement is called an “irruption” by birders.
But for some boreal owls, the winter is taking a tough turn. Several of the tiny owls, just a foot tall, have been found dead in or near Duluth, local birders say.
Three dead boreals have been turned in to Hartley Nature Center, office manager Gail Watczak said. Frank Nicoletti, director of banding at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, is collecting the dead owls, she said.
“Frank has picked up a bunch of dead ones around town,” said birding guide and naturalist Sparky Stensaas.
David Evans, another local bander, also picked up a dead boreal owl, Lind said. And Lind found a dead saw whet owl in Two Harbors recently.
The boreal owls are most likely dying because they can’t find enough food to sustain themselves, Lind said.
“The assumption is that they’re starving,” he said.
That’s been the case in past years when boreal owls have been found dead. They often have been emaciated, he said.
It isn’t known whether the owls were in a weakened state when they came down from the north or grew weak here, Lind said.
About three weeks ago, when this irruption of boreal owls was first detected, birders were seeing lots of boreal owls. One birding guide saw seven in a single day. Now, though, fewer boreal owls are being observed, said Jim Lind, a birder from Two Harbors.
“We’re not seeing as many as we were those first couple of weekends,” Lind said. “We’re still seeing a few individuals on a daily basis, especially between Two Harbors and Duluth. There are scattered reports from other parts of northern Minnesota.”
Lind thinks that first wave of boreal owls was moving through the Duluth and Two Harbors area, hunting as they went. The birds come south and are forced to skirt the tip of Lake Superior if they wish to continue southward.
“People don’t really know where they go when they round the tip of Lake Superior,” Lind said.
One was sighted in Pine County, he said.
Stensaas, Lind and Duluth guide Mike Hendrickson all saw different boreal owls on Wednesday, Stensaas said. But it isn’t uncommon to not see one on any given day, he said.
Meanwhile, a number of great gray owls have moved into northern Minnesota, and some near Duluth, according to local birders.
“Great gray owls have really increased,” Lind said, “just in the last week and a half or two weeks. There have been a couple dozen sightings. It’s kind of concentrated around Duluth Township, Lakewood Township and Stoney Point, he said.
Great grays, among the largest of owls at more than 2 feet tall, often perch in trees at the edge of open meadows while hunting for mice and voles.
Lots of great gray owls have been seen in the Roseau bog area and north of Roseau along Minnesota Highway 310, Lind said.
“Someone saw 59 in one day,” he said, “and someone saw 20 in one field.”
Irruptions of boreal owls occur about every four to five years, Nicoletti said. The influxes of owls are thought to occur when their food supplies in the north run low.
During a large irruption in 2004-05, an estimated 5,200 great gray owls wintered in northern Minnesota, and about 600 boreal owls were seen or found dead.