Wednesday January 29, 2014 | 12:31 PM
Posted by Mike Tetreault

While it has been a pretty good year for snow, it’s been a huge year for snowy owls.

As the Press Herald’s Kelley Bouchard pointed out in a recent article, snowies have come to Maine in record numbers this winter. Birders of all abilities report seeing this magnificent owl all along Maine’s coast.

Photo by Linda Aldrich Noon

Many of these sightings are in open, marshy areas where this winged predator can find a high perch and watch for mice, voles, weasels, ducks and other prey.

And though this is a debate among birders, the need for prey appears to be driving the snowy invasion. Conditions in their usual haunts up north are such that they haven’t been able to find suitable prey; so they’ve come to coastal Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and points as far south as North Carolina.

This party of treasured owl sightings has birders excited for good reason, and they’re hauling expensive scopes and long lenses to get glimpse of these beautiful birds. Birders, like our friends at Maine Audubon, are reminding folks that these owls are hungry and vulnerable, and accordingly, people should give them space.

This year’s “snowy invasion” also reminds us of the dynamic aspect of nature. The natural world is always changing, sometimes because of us, sometimes on its own, sometimes a bit of both.

Our scientists and conservation planners constantly keep this notion in mind as we work to conserve ecosystems, whether in the snowy owl’s wide northern realm or beyond. We ask ourselves, as the climate continues to change, how and where can rivers continue to behave like rivers? Where can forests remain as forests? Where will salt marshes remain resilient?

This may be a quirky year for so many snowy owls in Maine, but let’s be sure that when the next big invasion happens – whether five years from now or 50 – that they’ve got places that suit their needs.

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Mike Tetreault leads The Nature Conservancy in Maine, where he works with partners in conservation, government and community development to identify solutions which ensure that Maine's natural resources are available for people and for nature.

He holds a degree in environmental studies from Brown and a MS from the field naturalist program at the University of Vermont, and has studied resource management in Kenya, Mexico and throughout New England.

Tetreault started his career teaching wilderness leadership and environmental education, and has worked for The Nature Conservancy since 1998. He lives in Bath with his wife, their daughter and a menagerie of pets.


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