By Todd Eskelin, USFWS
Is the Kenai Peninsula becoming a new permanent home for Great Gray Owls?
So far, at least eight Great Gray Owls have been spotted there this winter -- and new reports continue after the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge reported the event on its Facebook page.
On the heels of last year’s unprecedented irruption, it is looking as though Great Gray Owls are once again planning on making Kenai their winter home.
An irruption is the unexpected movement of large numbers of birds into wintering areas where they are not typically found.
There are many causes for such shifts, but normally they’re food related. With Great Gray Owls, irruptions are often linked to deep snow or early winter warm periods where existing snow forms a heavy crust layer. That crust can protect the rodents from these silent aerial predators. At that point the owls’ only option is to starve or move somewhere else for the winter.
Last winter there were at least 20 Great Gray Owls regularly sighted around the Kenai Peninsula, which was highly unusual. Longtime Kenai Peninsula birders could only recall a handful of previous sightings in the past 30 years.
Now, scientists, conservationists and birders are waiting to see whether this year will be similar.
I get up close and personal with a Great Gray Owl. (Photo: USFWS)
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is tracking reports and posting periodic updates on their Facebook page, as well as their birding hotline (907) 262-2300.
The public can help by reporting any Great Gray Owls to the Refuge Facebook page, the Refuge bird hotline, entering their sightings in eBird, or calling me at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge (907) 260-2817.
Todd Eskelin is a Wildlife Biological Technician at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge