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Additional thoughts/observations regarding the Snowy Owl at Smithville Lake:
I've been thinking about my encounter with the Snowy Owl at the south end of the dam at Smithville Lake(Clay County, MO) earlier this evening. Nice thing to be obsessing about! Anyway, I lurked on a thread recently on the Indiana listserve about how invasive raptors typically do not survive their southern wanderings in search of food. Hunting style (low to the ground), lack of familiarity of the danger of automibiles at high speeds, pesticides, etc. all contribute to this heavy mortality. With this in mind (and for those who want to chase this bird), here are my observations:
The Snowy Owl flew in to the small cove by the dam with a low, powerful flight. I think he came from the area behind the Litton Center, flying west towards the dam. The bird perched on the ice and began picking something from it's talons(maybe ice? Didn't look like prey). He became very active almost immediately, taking great interest in the flocks of Canada Geese flying in overhead to roost. The bird made a couple of low flights along the rocky shoreline and came back to the ice. He flew out towards the half-completed jetty and perched on the rocks there briefly, showing a keen interest in the geese rafting on the water. He then began making repeated passes at the Canada Geese(both birds flying in and on the water) and coming back to the dead tree near the half-completed jetty. Twice, the Snowy Owl flew out over open water to harass the geese; out as far as 100 yds. The most aggressive sorties were directed towards the few Snow Geese that flew in to roost, making contact with at least two individuals. The Snowy Owl continued this behavior(with a couple of passes over the shoreline) until it was too dark for me to see.
Regarding the health of this bird, I hope the activity level at dusk is a good sign. The bird appeared healthy and robust(this was a big bird!); I was amazed at the size when the feathers were ruffled. I initially thought that a goose was too large of prey for a Snowy Owl, but Kauffman's "Lives of Birds" account states that Snowies out of range will take prey as large as geese! There is something different about direct eye-contact with an owl; it digs deep. I really hope this bird makes it back home.
Relocating this bird might be as simple as being at the right place at dawn or dusk. He seems to like geese near a fairly open, rocky area. Finding the bird perched along the shoreline during the day may be tough, with all the barring on the upperparts. He should stand out perched on the ice.
Another thing I've wondered about was wether the aggressive behavior towards the geese was predatory or territorial. Maybe the owl wanted to hunt the shoreline in private, maybe he was a young bird and inexperienced in the ways of taking down a goose. Sure seemed to be expending a lot of energy, whatever it was.
Unless Linda gets some better photos tomorrow, I'll try to get mine viewable somewhere. I'd like to know the age of the bird, if possible. Forgive me, but WOW(again)!
Good Birding,
Doug Willis
Liberty, MO
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