DEEP Advises Residents To Be Responsible and Respectful When Observing Wildlife in Winter
Winter Can Be Stressful Time for Wildlife, Including Migrating and Overwintering Birds Such as the Snowy Owl
(HARTFORD)—The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) reminds residents that winter can be a stressful time for wildlife, especially for migrating and overwintering birds, including the ever-popular snowy owl.
Many birds have either passed through the state on the way to their wintering grounds, stopping briefly to rest and refuel, or have stayed here to forage and spend the winter if weather conditions are favorable.When there is a winter influx of snowy owls and other rare, northern owl species, these birds attract a lot of attention. Combine this with a major increase in the number of people seeking solace in nature in recent years, with many of them still learning how to view wildlife responsibly, and the possibility of conflict arises.
It is easy to be drawn to a snowy owl, but the birds are not just on vacation while visiting the Connecticut coastline.
“We all need to remember that these owls are already under stress – they are in an unfamiliar place, they need food, and are competing with other owls and birds for it,” said Jenny Dickson, DEEP Wildlife Division Director. “Resisting the urge to get closer for a better look or a better photograph is the best way we can help our special winter guests survive.”
Many of these visitors are younger, less-experienced birds who are still learning how to hunt and conserve energy in cold weather.When people get too close, it may cause the owl to fly,depleting already low energy reserves. More people watching causes more disturbance, results in less feeding, and can even make prey scarce—they are hiding from people and increased disturbance. Some of the cues that you are too close are obvious; the bird may fly away or change perches, but others are much harder to notice. If a bird looks directly at you or appears to be frozen in place, it may be too nervous to move or worse, to hunt. While a single incident may not have long-lasting impacts, it is possible to love “snowys” to death. The cumulative impact of prolonged or repeated stress may weaken the bird enough that it cannot survive the winter.
Watching and conserving birds is a communal, not a solo, activity, so everyone must work together to protect the bird of interest and keep its safety the number one priority. Their lives depend on our respect. To help visiting owls and other wildlife have a successful winter, follow some easy tips on how to view wildlife responsibly and ethically while enjoying the outdoors this season:
- Resist the temptation to move closer to get a photograph or better view.
- Give wildlife plenty of space with a wide escape route.
- Be alert for changes in the animal's normal behaviors(i.e., it moves away from you or is looking at you). If it reacts or freezes, you are too close and should back away! An owl reacting to stress does not necessarily need to be rescued and rehabilitated. What itneeds most is likely more space and some privacy. Respect these amazing animals by knowing when to leave.
- Invest in optics, such as binoculars and spotting scopes, or upgrade your camera gear with a strong zoom lens, to view or photograph wildlife up close while maintaining a safe distance.
- Be respectful to both wildlife and people who are also wildlife watching or participating in other outdoor activities nearby. People nearby who may be walking, fishing, or engaged in an activity besides wildlife watching should not be confronted as they may not be aware of the presence of an owl or other animal or doing anything that would cause it undue stress.
- Consider mentoring others—offer those new to wildlife viewing a peek through your spotting scope or glimpse through binoculars.
- Always respect private property and do not trespass to observe wildlife.
- Be kind to the sensitive habitats these winter visitors often use. Many are ecologically important and harmed by lots of foot traffic.
- Never feed wildlife. Feeding wildlife is dangerous for wildlife and people. Sharing your food can sicken an animal or encourage it to approach humans in the future, expecting a snack.
- Model good wildlife viewing ethics and lead by setting good examples of ethical behavior. You’ll be rewarded by magical moments in nature.
Snowy owls can be frequent winter guests in Connecticut, especially in coastal areas. DEEP encourages residents to enjoy viewing these beautiful birds from a distance.
Photo Credit: Paul J. Fusco/CT DEEP