Snowy owls spotted in Cleveland area

CLEVELAND, Ohio – It’s been a banner season for snowy owl sightings along the Lake Erie shoreline.

While it’s common for at least one or two of the Arctic natives to visit the Cleveland area each year, the turnout this time has been exceptional, said Tim Jasinski, wildlife rehabilitation specialist at the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center in Bay Village.

Good places to look for the wintering raptors are the marinas along the lakefront, where they hang out along the break walls, he said. Another vantage point that might pay off is North Marginal Road looking out over Burke Lakefront Airport.

The most regular sightings in recent days have been at the fishing pier in Lorain Harbor, he said.

Although sightings have not been as prevalent in recent weeks, he said, the owls are still around and should be well into winter. The problem when it comes to finding them is they like to move around.

“If they find a good food source, they will obviously stay there,” he said.

Most snowy owls are born in early spring in the Arctic tundra, where they feast primarily on lemmings, mammals the size of a giant vole, said Jen Brumfield, naturalist with Cleveland Metroparks. They may spend the entire year there, but some may head south, stopping in northern Ohio after flying over Lake Erie.

They like open areas that allow them to keep tabs on their competition, including peregrine falcons that like to dive bomb their prey, Brumfield said.

While there are no lemmings in Cleveland, there are plenty of gulls and ducks and small rodents the owls can feast on.

Jasinski saw his first snowy owl of the season on Nov. 27 near the northern edge of Burke Lakefront Airport. And on Dec. 4, he and several members of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory spied five of the birds from a boat between East 55th Street Marina and Edgewater Marina.

Two of the owls were on the outer break wall off the East 9th Street pier, two were in the waste lagoon area north of Burke Lakefront Airport and a fifth was in a parking lot just north of FirstEnergy Stadium, where the Cleveland Browns play.

And just last week, Jasinski said, he saw a snowy owl moving around Edgewater Marina.

“It was on the dock and then it was on one of the poles,” he said.

Snowy owls have also been seen more inland, near Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and on a home south of the Detroit Shoreway.

The birds, which grow to about 2 feet from the tip of their tail to the top of their head, can have a wingspan up to 6 feet, Brumfield said.

“Most people are shocked when they find out that they are mostly feathers,” she said, adding that they generally top out at about 5 pounds.

The adult males can be almost pure white, she said, while the females and younger birds have varying degrees of black speckles and striping.

Jasinski suspects that a large number of newly hatched owls survived this past year because of a bountiful lemming supply up north, and that’s why more owls than usual have made their way to the Cleveland area.

But some years the owls may come south if the lemming population is less than usual and the competition for food more intense, Brumfield said.

It’s not clear how long the owls will stick around, Brumfield said, and it appears that some may have already moved on.

“We have had them stay through March,” she said.

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A snowy owl takes refuge from the high winds in the breakwall off the Lorain Harbor Lighthouse Lookout pier on January 5, 2022, in Lorain. There has been an increase of snowy owls that have traveled to Northeast Ohio this winter.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2022/01/web1_20220106-AMX-US-NEWS-SNOWY-OWLS-SPOTTED-CLEVELAND-AREA-4-PLD.jpgA snowy owl takes refuge from the high winds in the breakwall off the Lorain Harbor Lighthouse Lookout pier on January 5, 2022, in Lorain. There has been an increase of snowy owls that have traveled to Northeast Ohio this winter. Tribune News Service

By Peter Krouse

cleveland.com