After gracing the Jersey Shore with their presence last winter, the majestic snowy owls have returned.
Intrepid photographers have recently spotted the elusive birds of prey resting on beaches along the southern shore.
Photographer Ray Yeager captured the above image at the Holgate, Long Beach Island unit of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in early November.
He says that the best chance of seeing a snowy owl is in an open field or on sand dunes.
“Similar to their terrain in the Arctic,” he says. “I would expect several more to follow.”
The snowy owl 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.
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.
Last year’s influx of snowy owls at the Jersey Shore was unusual, Pete Dunne, director of the Cape May Bird Observatory, told NJ Spotlight in Dec. 2013.
Read about Dunne’s theories regarding why snowy owls were abundant locally last year.
Experts say to keep your distance from the birds, as they may be hungry, tired, and stressed from their long journey to the area.