- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 29, 2017

YANKTON, S.D. (AP) - Snowy owls have made a temporary home in the area surrounding a dam along the South Dakota-Nebraska border, marking a rare sighting for many residents.

Yankton resident and avid birdwatcher Roger Dietrich said two snowy owls were spotted near the Gavins Point Dam, the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan reported .

“It’s very unusual for snowy owls to be down here,” Dietrich said. “They’re from the (Arctic) tundra. It must be an unusually big production year for lemmings.”

Snowy owls have a high rate of nesting success when there are more lemmings, which are small rodents, in the Arctic. A robust food source enables more owlets to survive and learn to fly more quickly.

With a larger population of snowy owls in their natural habitat, it’s also more likely the animals will spread out and fly to unknown areas, like Yankton. The two snowy owls spotted near the dam were most likely born this year, Dietrich said.

The bird enthusiast said this wasn’t the first time snowy owls visited Yankton. Several years ago, Dietrich said, birdwatchers identified 20 snowy owls around the county and neighboring areas.

Snowy owls are distinctive to most observers because of their coloring and size. Males whiten with age, and females have brown and black markings. They’re the largest of North American owls, averaging about four pounds (1.8 kilograms). They also hunt during the day.

“There have been a lot of people coming to see these birds,” Dietrich said. “I know (birdwatchers) are coming from Sioux City and Sioux Falls.”

Dietrich warns those who want to observe the owls to stay in their vehicles because they can be unpredictable in an unfamiliar environment.


Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, http://www.yankton.net/

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