We are very fortunate this winter to have a large number of Snowy Owls migrating into Southern Ontario. This happens once every so many years at random (or so it appears to us humans).
I have been receiving regular phone calls in regards to these magnificent creatures, mostly due to some of their perceived un-owlish behaviors.
Snowy Owls are actually diurnal. This means that they are awake and hunt during daylight hours, as opposed to the majority of their owl cousins, who are nocturnal.
Snowies also have a habit of sitting on the ground for extended periods of time. This is normal behavior for them and is no cause for alarm.
To distinguish a healthy Snowy, from one who needs help or care, it is important to observe the bird from an unobtrusive distance (binoculars are handy). If the bird is alert and looking around, and/or turns its head to acknowledge your presence, it is exhibiting normal behavior; and is not likely in need of assistance.
If the animal is sitting, while fluffed up, and is either not mindful or cognizant of its surroundings, it should be considered a red flag. If you have noticed this bird in the same location and position for a second day in a row, it should be considered a second red flag. It is in these circumstances (and those cases alone) that you should carefully approach the bird and see if it will take flight. If it does not attempt to take flight, or is simply unable to, you need to contact the closest wildlife professional immediately.
Another issue that occupies my phone are concerns about photographers who feel inclined to either get close up shots, or to antagonize the animal so they can get a shot of the owl in flight. Some photographers take this one step further and will attempt to bait the owls with live prey, in order to get an action shot. These types of practices fall under the harassing of wildlife, and this is not only illegal as per the FWCA, but they also defy ethics.
If we as humans don’t respect the wildlife we so desire to photograph, these animals will simply go elsewhere and not come back. Meaning that we are literally depriving future generations from ever seeing these magnificent animals in the wild.
Let’s make 2015 the year where we enjoy wildlife from afar, in their natural habitat, without disturbing them.