Late winter takes a toll on owl population - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Late winter takes a toll on owl population

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MADISON (Press Release) – This year's long winter is having an impact on owls in Wisconsin, including three species of rare owls that have come down from the boreal forest north of the U.S. border.

Every few years, there is a crash in the populations of small rodents that forces owls to move south in search of food.  That is exactly what has happened this year and because of it, Wisconsin is becoming a temporary home to three species not normally seen here: the northern hawk owl, the great gray owl and the boreal owl.

To see these three species in the state is rare, yet they've been spotted in Door, Ashland, Douglas and as far south as Racine and Kenosha Counties.  A great grey owl is currently being seen at the Capital Brewery in downtown Middleton. 

"Unfortunately, long winters and early springs, coupled with unfamiliar landscapes, increased roads and other risk factors, have taken a toll on some of these rare visitors," explained Ryan Brady, natural resources research scientist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "Great grey owls and northern hawk owls are prone to vehicle collisions as they hunt over roadside ditches.  Boreal owls may begin hunting by daylight to find food, and may turn to backyard bird feeding stations in hopes of finding mice attracted to spilled seed."

The DNR is interested in learning more about where these birds are seen, regardless of whether they are alive.  Should you see a great grey, northern hawk, or boreal owl, you are encouraged to fill out a rare bird sighting form (http://wsobirds.org/?page_id=3208) on the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology's website.  Please note the species name, location, date, and any other information you can provide about the sighting.  The information will be used to better track the movement of these birds and will help biologists better understand ways that Wisconsin can be a good "host" to these special visitors.

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