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North Indiana sees influx  of Arctic-based snowy owls

A snowy owl perches chimney bathroom  beach house near  'magic hedge'   Montrose lakefront Chicago.  |

A snowy owl perches on the chimney of the bathroom of the beach house near the "magic hedge" at Montrose and the lakefront in Chicago. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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SOUTH BEND — Northern Indiana is seeing an influx of snowy owls, the bright white resident of the Arctic that sometimes travels far south in search of food.

As of Friday, there had been about 54 snowy owl sightings in Indiana, but the owl invasion is only part of a larger influx of the birds in recent weeks to the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada that’s caught the interest of bird enthusiasts and scientists.

Indiana Dunes State Park naturalist Brad Bumgardner said two-thirds of Indiana’s sightings were in Lake, LaPorte and Porter counties because the birds tend to follow Lake Michigan’s shoreline.

“We’re kind of spoiled in northwest Indiana,” he told the South Bend Tribune.

Bumgardner, who’s the primary writer of the Indiana Dunes Birding blog, said the snowy owls first appeared in state in late November, which was typical. But he said their numbers then grew, prompting the park to lead a series of hikes to look for bright-white raptors.

Snowy owls, at almost 2 feet tall, eat lemmings in the Arctic, but moles and a similar animal known as the meadow vole are typically on their menu in Indiana.

Although they regularly travel thousands of miles, often driven by a search for food, Bumgardner said scientists haven’t determined the true reason behind this large migration of snowy owls, which is termed an “irruption.”

An injured snowy owl recently rescued in Plymouth by farmer is now being nursed back to health.

“The farmer told us he saw something white in his field but thought it was just a plastic bag, so he ignored it most of the day,” said Pat Knight, president and bird rehabilitator for the nonprofit Songbirds of Northern Indiana. “When he saw the bag move, he walked out to investigate. He then took the owl to his barn and called for help.”

Another snowy owl was hit by a car in the Rochester area a few weeks ago, but one of its wings was so crushed it had to be euthanized, said Carol Riewe, a bird rehabilitator in South Bend.

Snowy owls can get infected with a fungus not found in colder climates, she said. And the owls are sometimes thin and emaciated from the long journey south.

Bumgardner told the newspaper it’s unclear how long the owls will hang around northern Indiana, but he said they usually head back north in March.



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