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Question of the Week

Q. How long do wintering Snowy Owls stay with us before they return to their breeding grounds?

A. Although we don't have a good handle on when Snowy Owls get back to their breeding grounds, we do know that they typically start leaving the Lower 48 in March. Scattered reports may trickle in through April and into May or even June.

One reason we know so little about Snowy Owls is that they breed in the very remote, barren reaches of the high arctic, and they visit more populated areas in winter only sporadically. During the winter of 2013-2014, scientists took advantage of the remarkable Snowy Owl irruption by embarking on Project SNOWStorm. This project aims to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge by satellite-tracking the movements of individual owls. As part of the project, Snowies have been tagged in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New York, and Minnesota.

Norman Smith of Mass Audubon has been studying Snowy Owls in Massachusetts since 1981, and is a part of Project SNOWStorm. He says that in big irruption years like 2013-2014, when there are lots of owls around, some stay until April, and occasionally to May. It is very rare to see one in June, but the latest record for a Snowy Owl in the state of Massachusetts is July 7.

The huge amount of publicly available data in eBird is a great resource for answering this sort of question, for Snowy Owls or any other species. You can use the Explore Data section to look at data in several ways:

  • see a range map for an individual species
  • look at bar charts for a location or region, showing how the relative abundance of species changes through the year
  • choose a species and see graphs of relative abundance and other metrics over time
  • see which species have been reported for particular locations
  • narrow in on hotspots by seeing a color-coded map showing where the most species have been reported

Learn more about Snowy Owls in our species guide.

Past Questions of the Week

Q. Are cardinals brighter in winter?

Q. Will birds use nest boxes to roost in for warmth during the winter?

Q. There's a hummingbird at my feeder in the dead of winter. Will he be okay?

Q. Is it unusual to see American Robins in the middle of winter?

Q. How do birds survive in very cold temperatures?

Q. Why don't birds get cold feet?

Q. Do birds store food for the winter?

Q. What can you tell us about the habitat associations of partridges and in particular whether pear trees are ever involved?

Q. A hawk has started hunting the feeder birds in my yard. What can I do?

Q. How much do birds eat each day?

Q. Where did the domestic turkey come from?

Q. I thought geese migrated south in the winter and north in the summer. Why did I just see a flock of Canada Geese flying in the "wrong" direction?

Q. Why do migratory birds crash into buildings at night and how can people prevent it from happening?

Q. Where can I go to watch hawk migration?

Q. How do birds prepare for long migrations?

Q. Should I stop feeding birds in fall so they can start their migration?

Q. What is the Migratory Bird Treaty Act?

Q. After birds leave a nest, can I clean out the nest for future use?

Q. How can I keep birds from hitting my windows?

Q. Why do woodpeckers like to hammer on houses?

Q. I’m seeing fewer birds in my yard. Is something affecting their populations?

Q. I found a baby bird. What should I do?

Q. I found a nest near my house and want to observe it but I am worried about disturbing it. Can you give me any advice?

Q. Sometimes I see little birds going after a big bird. Why do they do this?

Q. My feeders are being overrun with pigeons and blackbirds who eat all the food and keep the smaller birds away. What can I do?

Q. How can I share my bird photos with the Lab?

Q. How do I keep the squirrels in my yard away from my feeders and bird seed?

Q. Where can I go to watch hawk migration?

Q. Should I stop feeding hummingbirds in the fall so that they will migrate?

Q. After birds leave a nest, can I clean out the nest for future use?

Q. I live in a high-rise apartment with a tiny balcony. Is there any way I can attract birds all the way up on the 17th floor?

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