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Local

More snowy owls in region this year

Birds trying to find 'suitable habitat'

Many people want to flee the seemingly endless winter, but the region is becoming popular for one type of visitor – the snowy owl.

Readers have been submitting their photos of the bird to Sauk Valley Media. On Tuesday afternoon, a photographer for SVM took a picture of a snowy owl perched on a utility pole near Lanark.

The permanent habitat for snowy owls is in the Arctic regions. But like most birds, they go south. This year, though, they're coming down in much greater numbers, experts say.

Why?

Last year was an especially good reproductive year for snowy owls, resulting in many offspring, said TJ Benson, a research scientist at the University of Illinois' Prairie Research Institute.

The young "get kicked out and have nowhere to go," Benson said. "They're looking for a suitable habitat. They need to make a living. It's not uncommon to find a few of them around, but then you have exceptional years where you have tons of them."

Last year was a good year reproductively because the owls were well-fed, thanks to an especially abundant population of lemmings, which are small rodents typically found in the Arctic, Benson said.

The snowy owls, though, may not survive a journey back north, he said.

"They're younger birds. Typically when we get owls this far down, they are in poor condition," he said. "Their chances of making it aren't all that great."

Deb Carey, the Dixon Park District's executive director, said she hasn't seen a snowy owl yet this year.

"A part-time employee for the district saw 11 near Seward. I haven't been so fortunate," Carey said. "I'm on the lookout all the time."

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