Herald JournalHerald Journal, Jan. 31, 2005

Migration of northern owls seen in Montrose area

By Lynda Jensen

A shortage of mice and voles in Canada is causing the largest migration ever documented in Minnesota of the northern owl population.

Three varieties of northern owls are passing through Minnesota, with recent sightings of the creatures in the Montrose area, commented Area Fisheries Supervisor Paul Diedrich of the Department of Natural Resources in Montrose.

“A great grey owl was seen in the Montrose area Jan. 24,” he said. Great grey owls are a particularly large species, he added.

The owls are looking for food, due to the collapse of small mammal populations up north, Diedrich said.

“This happens periodically, but this year it occurred much earlier. Owls began moving south in September and October, rather than in November or December as in past irruptions (migrations),” he said.

Apparently, sightings of these birds have been reported as far south as the Twin Cities, he said.

There have been reports of increased sightings in Carlton, Aitkin, and Pine counties, as well.

Many of the owls stopped along the North Shore of Lake Superior and other productive hunting areas such as wetlands across northern Minnesota, Diedrich said.

Stressed birds

The birds’ access to food has been further hampered by the recent ice storm over much of northern Minnesota, followed by several inches of snow, Diedrich noted.

Birds are popping up in strange places for this reason, drawing attention to themselves.

“Many people have noticed the unusual numbers of great gray owls, northern hawk owls, and boreal owls,” he said.

To further complicate the situation, the birds are attracting the attention of bird enthusiasts from all over the United States and even other countries, Diedrich said.

The result has been an unusual number of bird watchers in rural areas, observing birds.

“Because more bird watchers are out in rural areas, there have been increased car/owl collisions and complaints of owl watchers stopping in unsafe areas to observe owls,” he said.

The problem prompted the Montrose DNR office to issue a warning asking bird watchers to observe the creatures with care.

“Use caution when driving through areas where owls are hunting,” Diedrich said. “Owls will swoop down to capture prey. They are not used to cars.”

When watching owls, the DNR urged people to look for safe places to stop their cars, especially because of icy road conditions in many areas.

Pam Perry, DNR non-game wildlife specialist, asked people to be careful not to interrupt the owls’ hunting.

“The birds are stressed and having a difficult time finding food. Watch from a distance. Don’t get out of car, and please don’t flush the birds,” she said.

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