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How to Help Save the Snowy Owl in Your Backyard

Kristen Howe is an an Edzoocator Volunteer at her local zoo. As a Roamer, she informs the guests about the snowy owls and other animals.

Snowy Owls are beautiful creatures. Read on to learn more about them and how you can help save them.

Snowy Owls are beautiful creatures. Read on to learn more about them and how you can help save them.

Sending Out an SOS: Save Our Species

Snowy Owls are beautiful white birds that sleep during the day and hunt at night. They’re fascinated to see in person, watch at zoos from Canada to Florida, and find in cold and snowy areas during the winter. But they need our help to keep their population alive and thriving.

Back in 2016, they were listed as a species of least concern. In 2017, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) classified them as a Vulnerable Species. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects them from the unlawful use of being pursued and hunted, taken, captured, or killed and prevents them, as birds listed as “migratory birds,” from being sold without a waiver. While Native Alaskans kill what they need for food and clothing, recent reports have indicated Snowy Owls are being illegally killed for their eyes and feet in Asian trade markets.

In 2018, the IUCN listed the snow owls as a Threatened Species on their Red List and changed their status to “Vulnerable.” It has been reported that they’re less than 30,000 birds in the wild. Scientists are uncertain about what’s causing their decline and would look further into it before they change their status to endangered. If we don’t do our part to protect the Snowy Owls, they will be one step closer to being classified as “Endangered” in the future.

Climate change affects the Snowy Owl's habitat and prey during the winter months.

Climate change affects the Snowy Owl's habitat and prey during the winter months.

Causes for Concern

  1. Climate change has ranked high as the number one factor that might threaten the Snowy Owl's future. The changing temperatures might affect their remote nesting habitats and their prey, small lemmings. If there's too much snowmelt early in the season, the lemmings are forced to stay aboveground, making them more susceptible to every predator. If there's too little snowmelt, there's not enough vegetation for the lemmings to eat. Due to the dramatic shift, the warmth in the Arctic is causing the region to become greener. Rodents have more vegetation to graze on, thus increasing more prey for the snow owls to feast on for their diets.
  2. Collisions with cars, utility lines, airplanes, and infrastructures are other considerable factors that give them premature death. Most of the time, if they received massive damage to their wings, they would have to be euthanized from the pain due to their injuries or poor prognosis. Sometimes, they're lucky enough to live with a positive survival rate if the injuries are superficial and minimal.
  3. Gunshot wounds and fishing line entanglements also contribute to their declining population in populated areas. Their wings could wind up wrapped up in fishing lines when lured by a hook. If they become ensnared too tightly and too long, they would lose a wing in the process. They suffer from permanent danger to their skin, feathers, muscles, nerves, and bones from the constricting line as they fight and struggle to escape. When entangled, these entrapped birds can't find food for their families or escape from their predators. It also affects the survival of their reliant owlets. If they can't free themselves, this lethal entrapment leads to exhaustion, starvation, and dehydration and requires human assistance.
Owl boxes protects owls and their young (owlets) from danger.

Owl boxes protects owls and their young (owlets) from danger.

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8 Simple Ways to Protect the Snow Owls

  1. Store unused nets: After you finish playing soccer or any other sports at home, take them down, put the nets away, and store them in your garage for safekeeping. If you play in a field for school or your community, stash them in a storage locker or utility closet. These nets are the culprits for entangling precious snow owls when they hunt for food at night and get caught in the net’s webbing.
  2. Get together: If everyone banded together, you can create your community to alert local governmental officials to protect owls in your area. Spread the word to your friends, family, and neighbors about wildlife conservation efforts to protect the owls. Take it one step further by installing a live owl cam to monitor the owl’s activities and conditions. Research the species to understand more and provide better protection for them.
  3. Install chimney caps: Small owls like screech owls have been known to find their way into chimneys and need rescue. A chimney cap prevents any critters from getting inside. Just measure your chimney and get an appropriate fit for the cap.
  4. Build nesting boxes: Owl boxes provide a safe nesting place for them to start a family and raise their owlets. Install them on your property (your backyard is a good location). They protect owls and humans by keeping rodents away. These owl boxes should be placed in high areas, be water-tight, and be cozy enough for them to choose your comfortable DIY owl boxes to bear their young. Lend a hand by volunteering to build these owl boxes for neighbors in your community. Each home should have one box installed on its property. Educate them on how important the Snow Owls are for our ecosystem and for pest control. If you know any existing non-profit organizations that share the same cause, contact them to provide additional help in creating these nesting boxes for the owls. If you know someone good with woodwork and carpentry, ask them to participate in lending their skills to this cause.
  5. Keep cats indoors: Don’t let your cats stay outside your home, and keep them indoors at all times. This is another best way to protect owls and avoid harm by taking shelter within your property. If you spot roaming cats within your area, report them to your local animal shelters to take them in and protect them and the local owls. Around 10% of owls were taken to WildCare hospitals and were injured due to cat attacks. Another option is building a catio for your precious feline friend.
  6. Install window insect screens: One of the biggest dangers to owls is hurting themselves in a window collision. To prevent this issue, install insect nets outside your windows. Alternatively, you can add adhesive strips to the outside of your window to reduce the risk of bird strikes by placing them vertically and having them spaced close together. Another alternative option is painting your windows by using a window marker if you can’t afford adhesive strips.
  7. Donate to owl-protection organizations: If you can’t create your community or volunteer to lend a hand, consider donating to those organizations to help with their mission. They protect owls by establishing and maintaining habitat, education, and nesting boxes. The Hungry Owl Project, Audubon, the Owl Research Institute, and the American Bird Conservancy, among others, are all great organizations that protect Snowy Owls by establishing and maintaining habitat, educating people about their plight, and building nesting boxes for them. Other than cash, donate items that might help these groups to fulfill their missions. Search for local organizations in your hometown and state to join the fight.
  8. Spread the word: Inform your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and co-workers within your local community and worldwide. Word-of-mouth, email, phone or text, fax, and snail mail are all viable options. Use social media to raise awareness about how beneficial snow owls are to our ecosystem with hashtags like #savesnowyowls, #buildowlboxes, and #stopclimatechange, for example. Teach the public how to be more helpful, and focus on something simple and effective to protect the species. With a monthly donation to the HungryOwl Project, you’ll receive a bumper sticker that says “I ♥ Owls” to place on your bumpers.

Please Give a Hoot

There are so many ways we can do our part to protect the Snowy Owls and their precarious future. We can make a difference in their lives with simple things right in our backyards and communities. A little bit goes a long way if we all start now and spread the word every day. If your local zoo has a snowy owl exhibit, please visit these beautiful owls to see them in person. It’s all up to us to change and shape their future.

References

"10 Things You Can Do to Help Owls." (2019). Hungry Owl Project, https://www.hungryowls.org/rescue-diaries/2019/9/12/10-things-you-can-do-to-help-owls

Fotheringham, Nikki. (2021). "10 Things You Can Do to Help Protect Owls." GREENMOXIE, https://www.greenmoxie.com/10-things-you-can-do-to-help-protect-owls/.

"Snowy Owl." (n.d.). Audubon, https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/snowy-owl.

Willis, Katy. (2019). "Endangered Animals: The Snowy Owl." Sciencing, https://sciencing.com/endangered-animals-snowy-owl-7231113.html.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Kristen Howe

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