With an apparent Snowy Owl invasion upon us this winter, the excitement over viewing such a majestic creature cannot be overstated. Snowy Owls are truly one of the natural world’s most awesome birds, and no one can fault you for being ecstatic about finding one in the Northeast, Midwest, or anywhere! Yet, regardless of location, weather conditions, or birding experience, we are all readily fooled by our own eyes when it comes to scanning open fields, beaches, break walls, or airports for Snowy Owls. Sure, quick glances at almost anything can appear almost bird like, but it seems that when snowy owls invasion are afoot, I can’t help but be drawn to a vast array of false idols and inanimate objects when searching for Hedwig amongst the sea of frozen waste.
So, without further ado, here is a list of things that I find look an awful lot like Snowy Owls when viewed at a distance or in poor lighting conditions (or with just an insatiable urge to find a snowy owl).
1: Plastic Bags
As if the fact that there was non-biodegrable plastic floating around an open field wasn’t enough, this shimmering pod of refuse has to linger in a corn field at 200 meters away, barely obscured and dotted with dark markings that up-close read “thank you for shopping”, but at a distance look at lot like the barring on first year female snowy owl wings. In short, you try so hard to turn this into a live creature, but in your heart you realize that this is just a glorified version of that scene from “American Beauty”
2: Ring-billed Gulls
For all of my friends on the Great Lakes, these common denizens of beaches and break walls sure do catch the eye when suspiciously solitary and viewed at a distance. Granted, it takes no more than a few seconds to properly ID this bird as an owl impostor, but oh how you wish that the RBGU would just turn into an arctic owl, or at the very least fly away so that it wouldn’t get your hopes up.
That’s right, snow in it of itself is the ultimate tease when it comes to finding Snowy Owls. Throw some snow on an irregular rock, grass tuft, or electrical box? Forget about it. Put any of those objects in an airport field, and you might as well stop birding the rest of your life and take up lawn darts as a permanent hobby. Heaven forbid some dirt or mud gets splashed onto that snow covered rock you are looking at from 500 yards away…..
4: A Person dressed in white and black viewed at a considerable distance
While this one is rather unlikely, we have all done a double-take at one point or another when looking for larger birds from a distance. Is it that hard to imagine that viewed from a half a mile away in driving snow, a small person tucked in like an owl out on a break wall or in a field could look like a snowy? And even if you can rule out snowy owl, can you really rule out Sasquatch (or Yeti, regionally) at that point?
5: Someone is just watching the Harry Potter Movies
Perhaps the most unlikely scenario, but still a whimsical and slightly hilarious case of mistaken identity. Allow me to set the scene: It’s almost dark, and there is little light left shining on you and your friends as you frantically scan the beach for that adult male snowy reported just the day before. The horizon is blurred as you scope out a few spots near some beach houses when all of a sudden, bam! A gorgeous snowy owl in brilliant HD light, perched right on some boy wizard’s shoulder! Wait a minute……
Regardless of how you view these beautiful animals this year, remember to have fun and be respectful of these awesome birds!