The Ethics Around Snowy Owls

We are in the midst of a second straight year of a snowy owl irruption (some have referred to this as an “echo”) where snowy owls move south in large numbers from their tundra habitat. In this area, snowy owls are typically seen on hydro/telephone poles, fence posts and trees in open agricultural landscapes though some have even been observed in urban Barrie! Snowy owls are typically not migratory – they are moving south into the area due to food scarcity. They have expended significant energy to get here and are basically trying to find enough food to survive the winter months and fuel up for their return trip back to their tundra habitats in northern Canada.

Snowy owls are magnificent birds to view and are often quite visible in their open habitats. They are thrilling to observe and photograph. Unfortunately, reports have surfaced of unethical behaviour with issues ranging from purposefully flushing the birds and even baiting the owls using live mice to get the “perfect photo”. Lack of respect for private property is also a significant concern. The snowy owls are using these “working landscapes” created by our agricultural community. Trespassing – aside from being an illegal act – disrespects the very landowners that are providing habitat for the owls.

The Ontario Federation of Ornithologists has a Code of Ethics that provides some common sense approaches to this issue.

Bottom line…the snowy owls need space to hunt, rest, and keep from becoming overly fatigued in order to survive. Please enjoy these unexpected winter visitors responsibly – let’s give them the best chance possible to return again one day!