Tag Archives: hedwig

HELLO HEDWIG! WHAT ARE YOU EATING? SNOWY OWL WEEKEND UPDATE

Hedwig has been seen daily along the backshore, mostly laying low during the day. She has become quite expert in fooling the crows as to her whereabouts.

Fog, snow, rain, or sunshine, she isn’t deterred much from her routine of sleeping, resting, and grooming during the day, in preparation for an evening of hunting.

Early this week I watched in amazement as she swooped down from her perch and flew hundreds of feet directly to the rocks and in between crevasses. She resurfaced with a small mammal in her mouth and ate it very quickly–from the time she flew off her perch until she licked her lips could not have taken more than three minutes and I felt very fortunate to have seen this first glimpse of her hunting prowess.

Perhaps the tail is too long for a mouse or rat and too short for a vole, but perhaps not. Small mammal caretaker Erin Whitmore wrote with her suggestion. What do you think Hedwig is eating?Hedwig eating a black and white sea duck.

Again, tonight she flew off her perch, this time heading out to sea. In mere minutes she returned with a sea duck of some sort and proceeded to eviscerate, much to the thrill of her Sunday evening fan club. The lighting was low and I was mostly filming, but did manage a few stills. The duck was black and white; perhaps a bufflehead. She ate well into the early evening, seeming to have adapted her behavior to the crows because they had surely settled in for the night.

The feathers were flying! Hedwig with feathers on her face but its almost too dark to see.

She’s finding the eating here in Gloucester excellent, but with the warm weather predicted for the upcoming week, I wonder if Hedwig will stay or that will be a cue to depart for the Arctic.

Please don’t get electrocuted Hedwig as happened recently to a Snowy in southern Massachusetts!

RATS, RATS, AND MORE RATS! SNOWY OWL HEDWIG WEEKEND UPDATE #2 -By Kim Smith

Hedwig was observed Saturday morning, when repeated harassment by a flock of crows sent her hiding. She reappeared Saturday afternoon, and was again seen Sunday morning in the drizzle, not too far from where she was perched Saturday evening. Later Sunday afternoon she slept and rested in the pouring rain.

Hedwig sleeping in the rain (thank you to Arly Pett for letting me know she was out in the rain!)

That she stays in a highly localized winter territory seems in keeping with known Snowy Owl behavior traits. I read that during the summer season in the Arctic, male Snowies hunt over hundreds of miles, whereas female Snowies typically hunt within a much smaller range. She has been observed eating sea ducks and rabbits and there are plenty of rat holes along the backshore rocks.

Both rats and lemmings (the Snowies super food in the Arctic) belong to the order Rodentia. From wiki, “A lemming is a small rodent usually found in or near the Arctic in tundra biomes. Lemmings are subnivean animals. They make up the subfamily Arcicolinae together with voles and muskrats which forms part of the superfamily Muroidea which also includes rats, mice, hamsters, and gerbils.”

Lemming (Lemmini)

Often Hedwig has been seen flying straight out over the water towards Twin Lights. I wondered, if she is hunting there, does Thacher Island have a rat population. Thacher Island Association president Paul St. Germain answers that question for our readers, 

“Hi Kim, there are lots of rats on Thacher mostly in the shore line rocks. We don’t see them often but know they are there. I discovered a bunch in the cellar of the keeper house making their nest in an old tarp. I would love to see Hedwig out there but we don’t go out in the winter. Have never seen snowy owls in the summer.” 

Great info and thanks to Paul for sharing that! A Snowy Owl has been seen on the rocks in Rockport, across the strait, opposite Twin Lights, and wonder if it is our Hedwig.

Rat and Lemming photos courtesy wiki commons media

This brings up the topic, what to do if you have a rat problem. The absolute worst way to control rats is with rat poison, namely for the sake of beautiful predatory birds such as Snowy Owls, falcons, hawks, and eagles. Birds that ingest rats that have been poisoned with rat poison will generally become gravely ill and die. Secondly, it is a cruel, slow death for the rat. They will usually go back to their nest to die. If that nest is located behind a wall in your home, you will smell that unmistakeable horrendous smell for many months. Thirdly, rat poison is only 60 percent effective. I wonder if the rats that survive rat poison will go on to breed super rats.

The best way to avoid having to kill a rat is to make sure they cannot gain access to your home or business by regularly inspecting soffits and woodwork for holes. Old-fashioned snap traps and live trapping continue to be the most effective way to rid your home or business of rats.

Saturday I stopped to say hello to a group of birders flocked together along the backshore who had traveled all the way from western Mass. They were observing Grebes, Buffleheads, and a Common Murre. And a Puffin had been spotted! I asked if they were planning to go to any of our local restaurants for lunch, but they had packed lunches. One Mom shared that an expert from Audubon told the group that there were at least a “dozen Snowy Owls” on Bass Rocks. Bananas! I have to say that it makes me hoppin’ mad when folks spread misinformation about our local wildlife. I gently told her that no, there were not a dozen owls, but that if she and her group waited until late afternoon, they might catch sight of Hedwig.

Twin Lights from a Snowy Owl POV

 

 

 

 

 

SNOWY OWL HEDWIG UPDATE -BY KIM SMITH

Last weekend was a busy one for Hedwig. She is attracting crowds from all around the Boston area. I checked in on her Monday afternoon on my return from Brooklyn and according to a photographer friend she had a very rough day with the crows. One actually hit her hard in the head. She left Bass Rocks Monday evening and I didn’t see her the rest of the week until this morning.

Found this morning with messy face and talons, tidying up from a morning hunt.

A single crow came by to harass her and unlike previous incidents, where I have seen here hold her ground, she left her post immediately and flew to a very cool super secret hiding place. I have never seen her do this before but am so impressed with her ingenuity. She is safe from both crows and crowds in this locale.

Hedwig returned to the railings at the end of the day. After first fluffing and poohing she took off over the water and headed straight toward Twin Lights. I imagine there is good hunting on Thacher Island 🙂

Heading off to hunt late day 

Sleeping in the afternoon sun

MY WHAT BIG FEET YOU HAVE HEDWIG! -By Kim Smith

My what big feet you have Hedwig! A Snowy Owl’s feet are covered in feathers, providing insulation against Arctic temperatures–just like a pair of warm fluffy slippers.

Hedwig left her perch and walked over to a patch of snow, which she proceeded to eat. She also washes her face and feet in snow patches.

 

HOW LONG WILL THE SNOWY OWLS STAY IN GLOUCESTER? -By Kim Smith

Not all Snowy Owls migrate south, but the ones that do leave the Arctic tundra to winter over in North America arrive at their wintering grounds (areas such as the Massachusetts coastline) usually beginning in mid-to late-November. Some don’t arrive until December and some as late as January. They migrate along coastlines, prairies, river valleys, and even mountain ridgelines are thought to help guide the Snowies.

By mid-April, most Snowies have left Massachusetts, although one study that I read recorded a Snowy that did not leave Logan Airport until July 7th! Another study reported that in most cases, the Snowy Owls that did not leave until summer were non-breeding birds in their first year of life.

How long will Hedwig stay? She appears to be getting plenty to eat and is quite well adapted to backshore living, despite her throngs of weekend fans. Let’s hope her stay is a good one and that she returns to the Arctic this summer to make lots of little Hedwigs and Bubos!

SNOWY OWL WATCHING TIPS: The following are some helpful tips for watching Snowy Owls.

  1. Watch from a comfortable distance–comfortable for the bird that is. Nothing makes the Owls more stressed than people getting too close.
  2. Please keep children from throwing rocks towards the Snowy or anywhere within the vicinity of the Owl.
  3. Please don’t allow dogs to play near the Snowies.
  4. There have been reports of Snowies flying into cars. They often fly low when flushed and it is easy to understand why this may happen, especially as the Snowies are drawing so much traffic. Please be on the look out when you are in known Snowy Owl territory.
  5. Slamming doors, radios blasting, barking dogs, and loud mufflers all stress the Snowies.

Thank you Everyone for being good caretakers of Hedwig, Bubo, and all the Snowies during their stay in Gloucester!

Jennifer and her daughters Ellie and Isla are super Snowy stewards, keeping well beyond the 150 feet recommended for safe observation.

SNOWY OWL HEDWIG TAKES A BATH! -By Kim Smith

Filming and photographing Cape Ann wildlife I have experienced extraordinary beauty and fascinating behaviors at nearly every encounter but filming a Snowy Owl take a bath has to be one of my favorite captures. I think there are a number of reasons why we are so captivated by these beautiful creatures. Most owls are nocturnal, which doesn’t allow much viewing of their day to day life. On the other hand, the diurnal Snowy Owl gives us a wonderful window into their world. Culturally, owls symbolize wisdom and intelligence and the characters they are assigned in literature strengthen our associations. Mostly though we are drawn to these creatures because they do not appear to be afraid of us, unlike most wild animals. Snowies will become irritated and depart an area when startled, or are being pestered, but I don’t sense fear in these Arctic visitors. I wonder if most have ever even seen a human being prior to migrating south.

Hedwig was a contented mess, her feet and talons blood stained reddish pink from a fresh kill. It was the morning after a rain storm, and the crevices atop Bass Rocks held pools of icy fresh water.

She gingerly at first hopped over to the largest pool, paused, and then jumped in. Repeatedly Hedwig dipped her face into the water to drink. After quenching her thirst, she plunged her entire face into the pool of water. She cleaned her face feathers by rubbing them against her breast feathers. Immersing, rubbing, immersing, rubbing, her face was clean in no time.

Then Hedwig went all in, dipping and soaking all her feathers, but not all at once did she completely submerge herself. I think that would have left her vulnerable to predators if she were unable to fly. She dipped and soaked, then fluffed her feathers, then repeated all several times more. The total length of time was about 40 minutes; she was still fluffing when I had to leave. Watching a Snowy Owl take a winter bath was beautiful and fascinating, unexpected and funny and am overjoyed to have captured with photos and film.

Happiness is a long winter bath.

A flock of Herring Gulls had the same idea. 

STAR POWER – NANCY MARCIANO IN THE HOOD!

My friend Nancy loves Snowies and especially Hedwig’s story. She drove over from Beverly this morning to see if she could see Hedwig and yes, there she was once again, perched on one of her favorite lookouts, the railing of the Ocean House Hotel at Bass Rocks.

Star to star–Nancy meets Hedwig and she is positively beaming 🙂

SNOWY OWL HEDWIG GOING POOP -BY KIM SMITH

I have along the way taken many photos of animals going pooh, quite incidentally, as it just happens. For some (childish) reason it always strikes me as mildly funny. One of the funniest is the Great Blue Heron–the bigger the bird, the greater the amount, and Great Blues are pretty big birds.

That Hedwig goes pooh seemingly so frequently means she is getting plenty to eat. This morning she arrived on the rocks a bloody mess (more signs of good eating) and took a luxuriously long bath in a puddle (posting those photos tomorrow when I have time too sort through). After bathing, she pooped several times before flying to higher ground.

Digestion in Owls

By Deanne Lewis

Like other birds, Owls cannot chew their food – small prey items are swallowed whole, while larger prey are torn into smaller pieces before being swallowed. Some Owl species will partially pluck bird and larger mammal prey.

Unlike other birds, Owls have no Crop. A crop is a loose sac in the throat that serves as storage for food for later consumption. Since an Owl lacks this, food is passed directly into their digestive system.

Now, a bird’s stomach has two parts:

The first part is the glandular stomach or proventriculus, which produces enzymes, acids, and mucus that begin the process of digestion.

The second part is the muscular stomach, called the Ventriculus, or gizzard. There are no digestive glands in the gizzard, and in birds of prey, it serves as a filter, holding back insoluble items such as bones, fur, teeth and feathers (more about this below).

Read More Here

 

SNOWY OWL AERIAL FIGHT -By Kim Smith

Snowy Owl Aerial FightHedwig arrived at Bass Rocks with the rising sun. Her face was smudged with blood from what I imagine was a satisfying breakfast. Off and on throughout the day, in between naps, she preened and groomed. By the end of afternoon her facial feathers were smooth and white.

After a day of grooming and resting, notice how much cleaner her face is at day’s end.A horde of crows arrived to harass Hedwig but she held her ground.

Hedwig crouching down while the crows were dive bombing

She jumped from the upper rock down to the lower rock just prior to taking off.

Late in the day, about the time when she would ordinarily take off to hunt, a cell phone person crept out onto the rocks, getting way to close to her. Hedwig was visibly uncomfortable and took off over the water. Suddenly and seeming from out of nowhere, Bubo came flying towards her. An aerial skirmish ensued but with no real contact. The battle appeared to be about establishing territory. Although taking place out over the water in the distance nevertheless, you can see the owl’s facial expressions were incredible; click on the photos to see larger images.

Bubo took over the rocky area near to where had been Hedwig’s perch for the day, while she flew further down the rocks.  

She perched on the the rocky beach, when the same cell phone person again got way too close, and caused her to flush a second time.

Perhaps this was just an average day in a Snowy Owl’s life but I was reminded once again that nearly every moment of a wild creature’s life is a struggle to survive.

SNOWY OWL WATCHING TIPS: The following are some helpful tips for watching Snowy Owls.

  1. Watch from a comfortable distance–comfortable for the bird that is. Nothing makes the Owls more stressed than people getting too close.
  2. Please keep children from throwing rocks towards the Snowy or anywhere within the vicinity of the Owl.
  3. Please don’t allow dogs to play near the Snowies.
  4. There have been reports of Snowies flying into cars. They often fly low when flushed and it is easy to understand why this may happen, especially as the Snowies are drawing so much traffic. Please be on the look out when you are in known Snowy Owl territory.
  5. Slamming doors, radios blasting, barking dogs, and loud mufflers all stress the Snowies.

SNOWY OWL BUBO HAS A BOOBOO -By Kim Smith

Although Bubo appears to have an injury surrounding his left eye, it did not seem to affect his ability to see. I sent a photo yesterday to Erinn Whitmore and both she and Jodi Swenson confirmed that he’s probably okay at this point.

This afternoon he flew into Hedwig’s territoy, which had been hers all day, and after an aerial battle took place, he claimed her rock. I don’t know if it’s the light but Bubo’s eye does not look any better today. The crows and seagulls are vicious and unrelenting towards the Snowies, other raptors don’t want them in their territory, and they are battling each other–it’s easy to understand how an eye could become injured. Posting photos tomorrow of the Snowy battle.

Comparing right eye versus left eye.

SNOWY OWL FIGHT AND HEDWIG AND BUBO WEEKEND UPDATE -By Kim Smith

Hedwig preparing for take-off.

Reports by several photographers have come in that early Sunday morning Hedwig and Bubo had a tremendous fight. They were going at it talon to talon and the feathers were flying. This is normal behavior amongst Snowy Owls. They are not a mated pair; Hedwig arrived at Bass Rocks weeks earlier than Bubo, and Snowy Owls don’t migrate together. The two were most likely fighting over territory. As a matter of interest, we generally see more males in our region because the female Snowies are stronger and better fliers and they often stake out territory further north, closer to their Arctic home base.

Bubo after the fight.

The two Snowies retreated, spending the remainder of the day on the Atlantic side of Bass Rocks. Bubo was perched out in the open opposite the Inns, while Hedwig stayed tucked under the shelter of a rock outcropping.

At dusk they both flew to their favorite perches to begin a night of hunting. Hedwig was unfortunately being dive-bombed by a single crow and Bubo may have been chased from the area by a bunch of crows. Monday morning, as of this writing, only Hedwig was seen.

SNOWY OWL WATCHING TIPS: The following are some helpful tips for watching Snowy Owls, reposted from yesterday.

  1. Watch from a comfortable distance–comfortable for the bird that is. Nothing makes the Owls more stressed than people getting too close.
  2. Please keep children from throwing rocks towards the Snowy or anywhere within the vicinity of the Owl.
  3. Please don’t allow dogs to play near the Snowies.
  4. There have been reports of Snowies flying into cars. They often fly low when flushed and it is easy to understand why this may happen, especially as the Snowies are drawing so much traffic. Please be on the look out when you are in known Snowy Owl territory.
  5. Slamming doors, radios blasting, barking dogs, and loud mufflers all stress the Snowies.

Reader Amy Mcmahon shared the following blog post about observing signs of stress in owls Signs of Stress in Owls.

Many thanks to Amy for sharing!

Hedwig grooming her feet and talons.

Hedwig in flight

NOT ONE, BUT TWO SNOWY OWLS ON THE BACKSHORE, PERCHED WITHIN METERS OF ONE ANOTHER! -By Kim Smith

Golden Eyes of the Snowy in the Golden Light of Sunset

Snowy Owls once again this January drew crowds along the backshore Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Fans were treated to not one, but two Snowies, and for quite a good amount of time they were perched within meters of one another–the paler owl (most likely a male) sat atop the corner of the Ocean Inn and the owl with heavily barred feather patterning (most likely a female) perched at the top of a phone pole.

With the clear distinction between the owl’s feather patterns I think we could name the Snowies–the female, Hedwig (thank you Michele for the suggestion) and the male, Bubo. The scientific name for the Snowy Owl is Bubo scandiacus and the name Bubo may help us remember that fact.

The photos were taken Saturday and I’ll have time to post Sunday’s tomorrow.

Notice how perfectly Bubo blends amidst the surrounding rocks.

It’s no wonder why the Snowies are drawing such crowds. Most owl species are nocturnal; Snowy Owls are diurnal, which means they hunt during daylight hours. It is logical when you think about the continuous daylight of the Arctic, they must be able to hunt during the day. Snowy Owls wintering in our region hunt during both the day and night, depending on what type of prey they are after.

SNOWY OWL WATCHING ETIQUETTE: The following are some helpful tips for watching Snowy Owls. You will get better photographs and you won’t stress out the Snowies.

  1. Watch from a comfortable distance–comfortable for the bird that is. Nothing makes the Owls more stressed than people getting too close.
  2. Please keep children from throwing rocks towards the Snowy or anywhere within the vicinity of the Owl.
  3. Please don’t allow dogs to play near the Snowies.
  4. Slamming doors, radios blasting, barking dogs, and loud mufflers all stress the Snowies.

Hedwig and Bubo have an ability to tolerate some human activity nonetheless, we want to help them survive and protect their time here on our shores. When Snowies are perching, it’s not for our enjoyment (although beautiful) but because they are either resting or on the look out for their next meal.  After all, if they have a good hunting season and survive the winter, perhaps they will return next year!

 

Fellow photographer friend Dave shared the above photo. You can see the guy is waaaayyyyy too close to Bubo and has caused him to flush.

Snowy Owls have wonderfully expressive faces. Hedwig’s eyes lit up in the setting sun.

Female Hedwig perched in the distance on the far left, male Bubo perched on the corner of the Inn, to the right.

Snowy Owl ~ Ghost of the Arctic

Snowy Owls have captured our imaginations partly because Harry Potter’s faithful companion Hedwig is a Snowy Owl, but also because unlike most owls, Snowy Owls hunt during the day, allowing us to observe their movements and struggle for survival more easily than their nocturnal cousins. Like all owls, the Snowy possesses a superb sense of hearing, binocular vision, and the ability to turn its head 270 degrees. A Snowy Owl’s hearing is so astute, it can capture prey under snow, without ever seeing the intended prey!

Snowy Owl Gloucester Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015

The Snowy Owl that was spotted in East Gloucester several days ago displayed this very behavior. Perched on a rock wall with a panoramic view of the surrounding fields, it held its body stone still all the while rotating its head around and around, up and down, and side to side. At one point, its head seemed to rotate in its socket nearly 360 degrees. In the two photos you can see the head turned seemingly backward from its front facing body, the second photo to an even greater degree than the first. By comparison, a human’s neck bones would snap if rotated to that measure and the blood vessels would close down. Owls not only have 14 very flexible neck bones, they have specialized blood vessels. When the circulation is cut off, others open to allow blood to flow.

Snowy Owl Gloucester Massachusetts January ©2015 Kim Smith

 Snowy Owl Irruption Update

Are Snowy Owls having a second irruption, two years in a row? It’s too early to tell. Just as with last year’s histoic incursion, they are again showing up all over eastern Massachusetts. My brief encounter with the Snowy Owl only left me wanting more!

You can learn much about the Snowy Owl from the tremendous film, The Magic of the Snowy Owl, linked here from a GMG post during last year’s widespread irruption. GMG FOB Mary McCloud shared this article from an Annapolis magazine, published last January, 2014.