INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana and other Midwestern states are seeing an influx of snowy owls, an all-white raptor native to the Arctic that’s rarely seen south of Lake Michigan, according to wildlife officials.
Indiana Department of Natural Resources non-game bird biologist Allisyn Gillet said the striking owls are migrating south from northern Canada during what’s called an irruption, which the owls cycle through every four to five years.
“We are definitely looking at an irruption. They are here. It’s unequivocal,” said Caleb Putnam, Michigan bird conservation coordinator for the Audubon Great Lakes and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Researchers believe this year’s irruption could be larger than the last one, seen in the winter of 2013-14.
“The important thing to remember is irruptions have a real unpredictability about them,” Putnam said. “They happen differently every time.”
During the 2013-14 irruption owls came down to the U.S. East Coast and the Great Lakes, among other spots. Early patterns indicate that this year’s trend could be centered more on the Great Lakes, with fewer showing up on the East Coast.
Indiana Audubon executive director Brad Bumgardner agreed that the numbers are unusual.
“But we are on pace with the 2013 year, which was already so unprecedented — Hoosiers are getting a chance to see Harry Potter’s owl,” Bumgardner said.
Scientists and researchers said that while they encourage people to see the birds, they advise keeping a minimum of 100 yards (90 meters) away from them.