Young Male Snowy Owl attacked by Crows!
Today’s plan was to visit the Minesing Swamp with my good friend Vince looking for hawks, herons, and if we where real lucky we would locate a snowy owl or two that is know to frequent the area near Minesing. Unfortunately Vince has been under the weather for the past few days, so i ventured out alone with my big coffee mug and a full thermos of Katherine’s homemade chicken noodle soup…. it’s so good, warms me to the heart xoxo 😉
A short drive from home takes me to the swamp area, which today had no activity, no hawks, no herons, nothing but a cold wind! I ventured on to the north side of the swamp and was lucky to see a large gathering of Sandhill Cranes starting to take flight for the continuation of the migration south. Over the past week I have watched thousands of Sandhill Cranes arrive and depart from the same area.
Around 9:15 I headed to the location that a snowy owl was located last year in late Dec. This year the reports of Snowy’s are a few weeks early and the numbers are huge!! This is being described by many birders and naturalist as an “explosive year” for owls, this is a great sign, as the past few years the populations have been very low. Human impact is the #1 factor in the loss of many owls and several owl species have been moved to the endangered or near extinction list.
Did I find a Snowy? OH YEAH 🙂
Driving down the county road I noticed a very white object a few hundred yards into a farmers field. You have to look several times and you keep second guessing yourself when you really want that white object to be a snowy, it could be a plastic bag, a piece of styrofoam, (human impact there) or just another seagull or remaining mound of snow from the recent dusting. After several minutes of watching the “little marshmallow” (that’s what they look like to me) it flew several feet, so finally I knew it was a young male snowy! It was gathering material and going back to the small mound where I first viewed it on, it woul disappear behind or into the mound then pop out and sit for 30-40-50 minutes and look all around, then fly again several feet for materials, or maybe a vole.
All this time I sat patiently and waited for some real flying, or maybe some great action of it grabbing lunch from the numerous gulls that where in the adjacent field, occasionally a gull would come over to check on the little marshmallow.
3.5 hours had past and this snowy has not been much of a flyer or hunter, I guess nest building is top priority right now for this young male.
THEN SOME ACTION!
From out of nowhere came 2 black crows, these crows where headed straight at the snowy, he was up in flight very quickly and fast, however no match for the crows coming in at speed. In a matter of seconds one of the crows was on him and the other not far behind, the snowy looked much more agile then the crows and was doing turns and dives that would make your head spin, several times the second crow would come in at a different angle and cut the snowy off, the few photos of contact are when the two crows seemed to be working together. At one point a seagull came into the action, more of an observer yet I am sure still another concern for the snowy. This aerial attack lasted about 5-7 minutes and ended with the snowy being taken to the ground where I could not see it, I assume this was from exhaustion and not injury or an attempt to kill by the crows. I had to drive a couple minutes to the area I saw them go down and was surprised to see the snowy surrounded by 4 crows on the ground. I was able to get 1 photo off when a very large female snowy flew into the scene and the crows exited extremely quick! She chased them about 300-400 yards then flew high over the little male and headed back the way she came from. The male rested and checked his feathers for several minutes before flying off in the same direction as the large female went.
When I was leaving the farmers lane the property owner came out and we chatted for several minutes (I have his permission to be on the property from last years owl). They have had a family of owls here for almost 15 years, he figures the young male is venturing out from the family and making his own nest/burrow for mating or maybe caching food to impress a young female (i just researched that).
Looking over the images from today, I noticed the the young male when being attacked was always looking to the south and trying to fly more in that direction. This is where the large female appeared from, it’s now obvious that he was bringing the crows to her direction for his safety, nature sure is amazing!
The day ended with another flyover of the Sandhill Cranes with a beautiful Dec sunset….. what an amazing day to start the winter season!
Update on the young male snowy. I followed up the day with some googling to find out more about owls and crows, very little in my search was located so I forwarded the photos and details to local falconer Matt Lieberknecht, Matt has an incredible knowledge of raptors and their behaviors so as luck would have it, he was very quick to explain to me what I had witnessed. Crows attack young owls in the day, they try to poop on them during the aerial battle and when the owl cleans it feathers of the poops it eats the waste, this can lead to a very sick owl that may die within a few days. Now why would crows attack owls? Owls raid crows nest at night and kill the crows, I guess that gives crows the right to poop on the owls then. The reality of survival and the life cycle of nature played out before my eyes….
Happy to announce the young male snowy was sighted on Jan 10th, 2012, 🙂
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