© 2024 WXPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A snowy owl visits Rhinelander in a year with rare sightings


A snowy owl in Rhinelander has become a popular photo subject in recent weeks.

It’s likely the same male owl that people have been seeing.

“The pictures I've seen, it looked like the same bird. They vary enough in the pattern and the plumage that you can look and be able to maybe track an individual, at least locally,” said Ryan Brady. He’s a conservation biologist for the Wisconsin DNR Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation.

He says sightings of snowy owls have been rare in Wisconsin this year.

Weather is likely playing a part; the owls don’t have to travel as far south this year to find food sources given the lack of snow.

But Brady says how their breeding season went last summer is the primary factor.

“When they have a really good breeding season, and they essentially make lots of baby owls, all those baby owls disperse southward. That's when we get a good number of them coming down here,” said Brady. “In other years, they have very poor reproductive success in the Canadian Arctic over the summer. A pair of owls, instead of producing five or six babies, may produce none. So you end up with not really any young owls to disperse. As such, you just have kind of the adult owls roaming the landscape.”

Snowy owl population numbers have dropped about 50% over the last 50 years. Because of how remote the area is where they breed, it’s not really known what’s driving the decline.

Brady suspects changes in the arctic driven by climate change, changes with their primary prey, lemmings, and loss of habitat in their winter grounds could all play a role.

“Those are all probably factors that come in too. Rarely is it just one thing and we can kind of just say, ‘oh, we'll go fix that’ and that's true of snowy owls too. It seems to be kind of a combination of factors at play,” said Brady.

It’s one of the reasons Brady encourages people to not add to it by stressing them out when you do see one.

He says if you’re close enough to change the owl’s behavior, you’re too close.

Snowy owls that winter in Wisconsin typically return north to the Canadian Arctic around the end of March.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
Up North Updates
* indicates required
Related Content