There’s an irruption of snowy owls in the Valley

Feb 2, 2018

Everyone knows someone who swears they’ve spotted a snowy owl in Toronto this winter.

That’s because we’re in the midst of a snowy owl irruption! Once in a while, for reasons that are not fully understood, snowy owls come south in large groups known as irruptions.

While irruptions can happen on a smaller scale on a frequent basis, there are times when the population experiences a large irruption and snowy owls in great numbers fly even further south than normal. Hence the many sightings in Toronto this winter.

A snowy owl’s diet includes a small rodent species called lemmings. These rodents live under the deep fluffy layers of thick arctic snow. Researchers once believed the snowy owl population boom was a result of a lack of prey in the Arctic. However, researchers are now thinking it’s the opposite. A healthy population of lemmings means we’ll see a surge in the owl population and these owls will travel to further and further. Scientists are looking into how well the lemming, and snowy owl, population will fare with changing climates.

Unfortunately, as owls migrate into more urban environments, the young raptors face the dangers of vehicle collisions, rodenticide poisoning and electrocution.

At a recent Don River Valley Park evening prowl, our group of 32 people spotted an owl. While not a snowy owl, it was still captured the group in a moment of awe. Many believed it was a Great Horned Owl. The bird perched above our heads, slowly flapping its wings before flying off into the night sky. We stood stunned, unable to move at the sheer magic of the moment.

A participant described the moment perfectly: “Everyone was spellbound, just admiring in awe at such a majestic sight. It was so perfect that someone even remarked it must have been a robotic plant, like the shark at Disneyworld.”

Keep your senses peeled, and eyes up, for owl sightings in the Valley this winter. Even try out a “who cooks for who,” owl call into the woods. You might just hear an owl hoot back.

Stay tuned to our events page for more walks in the Valley, or subscribe to our newsletter to never miss a hike, event or art opening.