Snowy Owls in Petoskey
Look for these winter wonders December through March
It’s the thrill of a lifetime – spotting the prominent white plume of a snowy owl, either on the wing or perched up high on a tree branch. And, guess what? It’s finally our time of year to see these winter wonders!
From late December through March, snowy owls migrate from the Arctic to find food in areas like the open woods and rolling terrain of Petoskey. Each year, we are lucky to report sightings in the area and we chatted with Lisa Hoyt, president of the Petoskey Audubon (and membership director at The Petoskey Chamber) about the rare treat. She offered us tips on finding these once-in-a-lifetime owls – read on for a birds-eye view of the snowy owl “hunt”!
Where are the best places to spot snowy owls in Petoskey?
- Behind the Petoskey High School (on Hill Street)
- McDougal Road
- Greenwood Road
Where else might I find them Up North?
- If you are traveling to the UP, consider spending time in Rudyard and the Pickford area. This is a huge hot spot for snowy owls, and many birders make their way up there come winter.
- Traverse City has a known spot for spotting snowies – the baseball field near Chum’s Corners. A couple of regular snowy owls are often seen perched on the light poles of the stadium and at businesses nearby – they seem to love KFC!
What do they look like?
- All-white owls are males.
- Owls with gray streaking are female or younger males.
- Snowy owls can reach up to 27 inches in height, with a 49- to 51-inch wingspan, and can weigh between 40 and 70 ounces, making it the largest North American owl species by weight. Male snowy owls are smaller than females.
Where should I look for them?
- In open fields
- Perched on light poles or telephone poles
- On edges of fields in trees
- Any time during the day. They hunt during the day, unlike most owls.
- One tip – if you are in a known snowy owl area, look for stopped cars. That means they likely have spotted a snowy owl and are enjoying the view. Stop by them and stay in your car so as not to spook the owls.
What do they eat?
- The owls hunt mice, voles, rabbits and other rodents. They often perch high up on a pole to scan the area looking for movement. They also eat birds, ducks, muskrats, gulls, songbirds, raccoons and even other raptors!
- Both genders of owls hunt when they are in Michigan. You won’t see any nests in Michigan or fluffy baby owls – owls mate and fledge their babies in the Arctic before coming down through Canada and the United States during the winter months for more plentiful food. So all of the owls you see are teenagers or older – some on their first trip to Michigan!
Where can I learn the latest on owl sightings near me?
- Visit ebird.org. Here, you can log your own sightings and see others as well. “Part of the fun is sharing the love!” says Hoyt, who says birders keep annual lists of their sightings. And, with the start of 2023 upon us, birders are back to “zero” on their list – and snowy owls are a great one to start the count with again!
- Michigan Birding Discord. Visit the Jackson Audubon Group to find out how to get the Discord app and find the Michigan Birding group.
- Project Snowstorm follows “tagged” snowy owls on their migration. Check out the maps that show the amazing journey a handful of their owls make each year!
As the snow continues to fall here in Petoskey, make the most of every drive you take and keep an eye out for the snowies. It’s a thrill! And if you have a chance to take a picture of you, Hoyt recommends you keep your distance, as snowies are NOT used to humans (what with life in the Arctic and all!). Tread lightly and do not stress these beautiful winter wonders of Petoskey. Good luck!