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Local News

December 6, 2013

Whooo are you?

Rare visit from snowy owl in Marblehead

MARBLEHEAD -- Kevin Baer has seen birds and other wildlife in his yard, but nothing like this — a snowy owl. 

He spotted it perched on top of his chimney on Sunday morning. Around 8:45 a.m., a swarm of crows caught his attention outside his Arrowhead Road home. 

“I went outside to see why the crows were just swarming around, and I looked up, and there he was on the chimney,” he said. Some of the crows were diving straight at the majestic bird, he said.

He grabbed his camera, of course, and called his wife and children outside. He stayed at a safe distance and took video and photographs. 

“I haven’t seen anything like this,” he said. “There is something about owls. This white one was incredible.” 

Baer said he was at first concerned that the bird was injured — or could be injured by the dive-bombing crows. A birder friend who drove across town to see it told him everything was fine. The crows were just defending their space or warning other smaller birds about the owl, he was told.  

It is unknown if the owl was male or female, but Baer referred to it as a male.

”He wasn’t moving,” Baer said. “He kept looking down at me.”

There have been many other snowy owl sightings reported along the Massachusetts coast, including in Salem, Marblehead Neck and Crane Beach in Ipswich. 

“It is pretty exciting,” said Carol Decker, director of Mass Audubon’s Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary. “It is a pretty irrruptive year.”

Typically, only a few snowy owls are spotted locally each year, mostly off Plum Island, she said.

“Nothing like this,” Decker said. “This year, there have been so many sighted.”

Decker said she saw one on Saturday in Rockport. But this wasn’t the first one she has seen.

“It never gets old,” she said. “They are a large, glorious owl.”

Snowy owls nest mostly in the Arctic tundra of Northern Canada, Greenland and Europe, said Bill Gette, sanctuary director at the Joppa Flats Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary in Newburyport. The white owls are the largest owls in North America, ranging in height up to 28 inches with 5-foot wingspans. 

“The birds we are seeing are most likely coming down from Northern Canada,” he said. Many of the owls are in their first year of life, Decker said. 

There have been many sightings over the last month, including 12 sightings on Plum Island. Gette said a group of birders saw six snowy owls Wednesday morning at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. 

Gette said it is not exactly known why they come south. Some suggest the owls are hunting for food, while others say it’s a general dispersing from their breeding grounds. Some years — like last year — there are few or no sightings, he said.

“Sometimes, they come down; sometimes, they don’t,” he said.

As the owls migrate north and south, they look for places that look like the tundra, including Logan Airport, according to Mass Audubon. They usually make their way south in November, with the earliest sighting recorded on Oct. 22, according to the group.

Gette said people have been reporting the owls all over the place, including on backyard porches.

“This is not terribly unusual,” he said. “Some of these animals probably haven’t seen humans.” 

Decker said the owls should stick around until March or April. 

Baer said the owl at his house was there for about an hour. His photos received a lot of attention online with many birders calling him to see if the owl was still around, but it’s long gone, he said. 

“I wanted to watch him fly away,” Baer said. “I went in the house, and when I came out, he was gone.”

It was quite an experience, he said. 

”I don’t know if I’ll see another one in my life,” Baer said. “It was just an amazing sight.”

Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.



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