Scott Diehl releases a snowy owl back into the wild north of Port Washington. Diehl is the wildlife rehabilitation center director at Wisconsin Humane Society. The injured bird was found in downtown Milwaukee in November.


As a major snowstorm moves into northern Wisconsin, so too, are the beautiful snowy owls that migrate to Wisconsin this time every year.

As of Nov. 25, at least 20 of the owls had been documented in 12 counties from Bayfield to Milwaukee, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

That's lower than the 30 that were spotted by that date in 2018 and the 96 recorded in 2017, an irruption year when a record 280 snowy owls were documented in the state. Irruptions happen every few years.

The majority of the birds that have been photographed this winter are adults, which might indicate a lower number of juveniles were born over the summer, according to the DNR.

There have been two sightings in the Milwaukee area so far this year, according to Wisconsin eBird: along South Shore Drive near South Shore Park and near the airport. There have also been two sightings in Ozaukee County.

While there is no snow on the ground in southeastern Wisconsin, the big birds, which weigh 3 to 6 pounds, are easy to spot, with their white plumage flecked with brown and large yellow eyes. 

They like to hang out in open landscapes similar to their Arctic tundra homes: beaches, harbors, grasslands, agricultural fields, wetlands, airports and frozen bodies of water.

They'll perch on anything from fence posts to telephone poles as they hunt for small rodents — mice, voles, shrews — similar to the lemmings they eat in the Arctic. 

Unlike many other owls, they are active during the day, especially around dawn and dusk. 

If you spot a snowy owl, as with other birds, you should keep your distance so as to not stress the animal. 

Snowy owls usually stick around until March or April, when they head back to their breeding grounds above the Arctic Circle.

Contact Chelsey Lewis at Follow her on Twitter at @chelseylew and @TravelMJS and Facebook at Journal Sentinel Travel.

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