2015-12-23 / Nature

Captivating Visitor Draws Admirers

By Jack Kelly


A juvenile snowy owl dines on a red-breasted merganser recently at Sachuest Point NWR. 
(Photo by Bob Weaver) A juvenile snowy owl dines on a red-breasted merganser recently at Sachuest Point NWR. (Photo by Bob Weaver) A number of recent sightings of a juvenile snowy owl at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge has excited local bird watchers. This unique raptor has been observed feeding on ducks and other prey along the southern coast of the refuge and in the Island Rocks region. Snowy owls stand two feet tall, have a wingspan of five feet, and weigh four-six pounds. These diurnal (daytime) hunters may be found on the ground in the fields and meadows of the refuge resting or watching for prey. Bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts from across Rhode Island and neighboring states have flocked to the refuge in recent days with hopes of catching a glimpse of this magnificent creature.

Unfortunately a small percentage of overzealous admirers and photographers have approached the owl too closely and caused it to flush in fear. Not only does this rob others of a chance to view the owl, but it causes undue stress to the bird and may threaten its survival. Every time the owl is forced to fly away from threatening human contact, it expends a great deal of energy and experiences damaging stress to its nervous system. This may also cause the bird to stop feeding. But one very important fact to keep in mind is that the species is highly territorial and there are many confirmed cases of agitated snowy owls attacking bears, wolves, coyotes and humans who invade their space.


Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has posted signs throughout the refuge explaining the dangers to wildlife posed by encroaching photographers and the penalties for harassing wildlife species. The signage is a direct result of human interactions with wildlife in the past two winter seasons at the refuge. If you sight a raptor of any kind, please keep a safe distance away and admire it from afar. It's a matter of life and death to these animals.

Recent data from across the northern tier of the United States indicates that a sizable irruption (non-migratory movement of a species due to the loss of a food supply) of juvenile snowy owls is in progress. The irruption is greater in the western states at this time, but it may spread further east and bring more juveniles into our area.

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