Hungry snowy owls return to Tsawwassen

Adapted from The Province by Nancy Carson
Level 2

Bird lovers are excited.
About two dozen snowy owls
have come back to B.C.’s Lower Mainland
for the winter.
The owls are in Boundary Bay
in the Tsawwassen area.
People have seen them on Vancouver Island, too.

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It is rare to see these beautiful Arctic owls
close to urban areas.
Last year, thousands of people
came to see them.
“They’re wonderful birds to see,”
said Anne Murray.  Murray is an author
for Nature Guides B.C.

Why Arctic owls are here
It is the second winter in a row
that snowy owls have come this far south.
Last year, more than 40 owls spent
the winter in the Vancouver-area park.
Experts say birds fly far from home when
there are too many birds for the food supply.
It is often the younger ones that leave.
An owl can hatch 12 eggs in a good year.

A dark side to the migration
A rescue group in Courtenay says
the owls arriving are half-starved.
People should stay away from the owls.
The birds do not have much energy.
If the owls are scared, they will try
to fly away.

The rescue staff say
the owls are one-half to one-quarter
of their normal weight.
Ten have died already.
Because they are young,
they are not good hunters.
“For every mouse they catch, they miss 10,”
says Maj Birch.  Birch is part
of a rescue group in Courtenay.

Owl habitat
Snowy owls look for open spaces to hunt.
They will go to lands near airports.
They will go to rooftops.
They are not used to trees.
In their northern home there are no forests.
Snowy owls are active during the day
and the night.
Most owls are active only during darkness.
In the north there is 24-hour daylight in summer
and 24-hour darkness in winter.
They hunt using their sense of hearing.
So, they fly close to the ground,
then grab their prey.

A beautiful bird
Snowy owls are big.
They stand up to 61cm tall.
Their wing span is about 1.5 metres.
Males can weigh about 1.8 kg.
Females weigh about 2.3 kg.
Males are pure white.
Females are white with some dark brown feathers.
The snowy owl is the official bird of Quebec.
These beautiful white birds return
to the tundra in the spring,
for the breeding season.