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Snowy owl makes birdwatchers hoot with excitement

March 2018

Snowy owl © Matt Bruce
Snowy owl © Matt Bruce

Hundreds of eager bird watchers gathered in Norfolk on the RSPB reserves at Titchwell Marsh and Snettisham over the weekend in order to catch a glimpse of a very rare visitor, a female snowy owl.

These strikingly white birds are more commonly found in the high Arctic tundra rather than the coastal regions of Britain. During winter months they can migrate southwards looking for food sources and it’s possible that this bird came from Scandinavia or even as far away as Canada with the recent snap of cold weather. Snowy owls had limited breeding success on Shetland in the 1960s and 70s and occasional sightings in the UK have been reported since then.  It is incredibly rare to see one as far south as Norfolk.

In recent years the snowy owl has achieved notoriety as Hedwig the post-carrying messenger for Harry Potter in J K Rowling’s series of novels. Hedwig was portrayed as a skilled hunter and an affectionate and loyal companion. In reality, they are reclusive birds unused to human contact although historically eaten by the Inuit.

Unlike other species of owl, snowy owls are active during daylight hours and may be seen gliding low over ground looking for small mammals such as voles or event rabbits. Luckily, these birds are content to sit still for long periods of time either on a low perch or boulder making them an ideal ‘twitch’ for wildlife fans.

The news of the snowy owl’s arrival was broadcast through the birding community and within hours, people started to arrive from all over Norfolk and beyond. Graham Minster from Swindon, Wiltshire left home at 4 am to drive the 170 miles to see the bird “I never imagined I would see a snowy owl in person. She is a beautiful bird and worth every minute it took me to get here” he said.

The RSPB thanked everyone who has made the trip to Norfolk to see the visiting snowy owl for being responsible birdwatchers and following “The Birdwatchers’ Code”, which calls on birders to:

1.    Avoid disturbing birds and their habitats – the birds’ interests should always come first.
2.    Be an ambassador for birdwatching.
3.    Know the law and the rules for visiting the countryside, and follow them.
4.    Send your sightings to the County Bird Recorder and the Birdtrack website.
5.    Think about the interests of wildlife and local people before passing on news of a rare bird, especially during the breeding season. 

For more information about the Birdwatchers’ Code and responsible birdwatching, visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatcherscode

 

 

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