A local photographer had the good fortune of spotting a snowy owl on the beach in Sea Bright today.
Chris Spiegel, owner of Blur Revision Media Design, said a friend’s birdwatcher pal tipped him off that a snowy owl was “hanging around the Sandy Hook area.”
“When I got there there were about 10 other people there with binoculars or cameras staking it out. One of the guys there told me they were pretty rare around here, possibly two to three sightings per year in NJ. They all agreed it was a somewhat young female because of the speckling patterns on its wings,” he said.
The snowy owl is a large bird of prey that hails from the Canadian tundra, according to The Raptor Trust, a non-profit bird rehabilitation facility based in Millington, NJ. The facility provides the following description of the bird on its website:
When perched, the bird has a smooth, heavy appearance. Its head is rounded and lacks feather tufts. It has bright yellow eyes, a black beak, and thickly feathered legs and feet. The female is larger than the male, as in all owls, but the recognizable difference is that the adult male is almost pure white, while the female has dark, heavy flecking.
The snowy owl is occasionally seen in New Jersey during the winter months, preferring “open country,” including “fields, pastures, coastal beaches and airports,” according to the organization.
They’ll visit New Jersey more often if the availability of food — including mostly lemmings, but also rabbits, rodents, birds, and fish — in the Arctic region is low, as explained on The Raptor Trust’s website:
These winter visits to our state depend on the availability of food in its Arctic home, not on the severe weather there, which the bird is well equipped to endure. Periodically, in cycles of from four to eight years, the populations of the Snowy’s usual northern prey species decline. Then these owls begin a southward movement in search of food, and we are afforded a chance to see one of nature’s masterpieces.
In 2012, there was an unusual spike in snowy owl sightings in the United States, including one spotted at an airport in Hawaii.