GREENSBURG – For many, the term “snow bird” conjures up images of retired loved ones heading south to escape the cold and dreary Midwestern winters.
For bird watchers, “snow birds” takes on an entirely different meaning. The most common of those winter birds fondly referred to as snow birds is the Dark-eyed Junco (formerly known as the Slate colored Junco). This is the little dark gray bird frequently seen on the ground beneath bird feeders. They often arrive here about the time of the first snow fall. When they fly, you will often see a flash of bright white along the outer tail feathers.
Less common in southeastern Indiana, but also bearing the “snow” moniker, is the Snow Bunting. Snow Buntings have mostly white plumage and are often mixed in with flocks of Horned Larks. In flight, a flock of Snow Buntings can look like a blowing snowstorm.
The least common and most prized sighting of a “snow bird” among birders south of the Great Lakes is the Snowy Owl. This majestic owl is one of the few birds that can even get non-birders to come out and brave the elements for a look. The Snowy Owl is the largest of the North American Owls- weighing approximately four pounds and having a wingspan of roughly four to five feet.
Unlike most owls, Snowy Owls are diurnal, which means they may be seen hunting at all hours of the day, either in the Arctic during the continuous daylight or on their wintering grounds. Another interesting characteristic of the Snowy Owl is that it spends a lot of time on the ground, even nesting on the ground. Whether on the tundra or in the Midwest, Snowy Owls prefer treeless places and wide-open spaces- often sitting in bare corn fields, beaches or even airports.