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Snowy Owl persists at Rye Harbor State Park

A snowy owl has taken up temporary residence at Rye Harbor State Park.
A snowy owl has taken up temporary residence at Rye Harbor State Park.
Brad Sylvester

There is something about owls that makes almost everyone take an interest in birdwatching. Most owls are quite reclusive by day and difficult to spot. The exception is the snowy owl. Although snowy owls (Bubo scandiaca) generally live and breed far north of the contiguous 48 United States, They will sometimes come down into the northern states during the winter months.

Alert snowy owl at Rye Harbor State Park
Brad Sylvester

This year happens to be a pretty good year for snowy owls in New Hampshire. With snowy owl sightings reported at Hampton, Seabrook, Hinsdale, North Charlestown, Rye, and even Manchester, this year may be a great opportunity to see one of these magnificent birds in the Granite State.

Although one can never predict where or when a bird will be found with any certainty, one snowy owl seems to have taken a liking to Rye Harbor State Park along Route 101 in Rye, New Hampshire. After multiple reports of the bird being seen there, I went down to have a look on Saturday, February 8. Sure enough, when I arrived, the snowy owl was sitting on a low stone wall along the seashore. His white form was easily visible against the dark backdrop of the ocean.

Normally, the snowy owl relies on its predominantly white, mottled plumage to hide in plain sight in the winter snow. They'll often be found in snow-covered salt marshes, or sitting out on ice sheets in a frozen estuary. Against an irregular white background, they are almost invisible.

Snowy owls like to perch high above a hunting territory, scanning the ground for prey. When they spot a mouse or other prey, they'll swoop silently down on it from above often killing it with a single piercing grab of its sharp talons. Look for snowy owls on rooftops, posts, large rocks, the tops of beach dunes or other similar vantage points. At Rye Harbor State Park, this snowy owl often sits atop the bath house, but may use any handy perch. While there are no guarantees that it'll stay, Rye Harbor State Park may be your best chance to spot a snowy owl this year.

The snowy owl is one of the few owls that will hunt during daylight hours. If you think about the fact that it normally lives in or near the arctic where the summer sun sets for only a few hours if at all during the summer, the diurnal habits of the snowy owl are quite understandable.

Snowy owls are large birds measuring over two feet in length and weighing in around four pounds as an adult. Their wingspan may reach as much as five and a half feet.

If you do go to see the owl, be courteous to photographers and others there to see the owl as well as to the owl itself. Don't try to get too close and risk alarming the bird. Keep children well back, and don't bring pets.