PEI

Snowy owls can get stressed if people get too close, vet says

Anyone who sees a snowy owl on P.E.I. should resist the temptation to get close to it, says a wildlife expert.

'Beautiful birds' are often tired and hungry by the time they arrive on P.E.I.

April Adams took this picture of a snowy owl at Covehead from a safe distance in her car. The bird later died of starvation. (April Adams)

Anyone who sees a snowy owl on P.E.I. should resist the temptation to get close to it, says a wildlife expert.

Dr. Megan Jones, a veterinarian and regional director of the Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative, said snowy owls are often thin and tired after they migrate from the Arctic to P.E.I.

"They are susceptible to things like stress. I know that these are really, really beautiful birds and people want to get a close look at them, but we also recommend that people kind of keep their distance," she said in an interview with Island Morning host Mitch Cormier.

Jones did the pathology report on a young, female snowy owl that died last week in Covehead.

Often when they show up in our area, they've travelled a long way and they can be quite thin.— Megan Jones

She said the owl appears to have starved to death — its pectoral muscles were concave, and it didn't have any food in its stomach.

"Often when they show up in our area, they've travelled a long way and they can be quite thin. Also, it's often the young ones that tend to travel, and so they might not quite be as experienced hunters and they're in kind of a new landscape."

Normally, only a small number of snowy owls are seen on P.E.I., she said. 

"What's interesting is it seems like there is a cyclical pattern. Once in a while we get years where there's a lot more snowy owls that show up in Prince Edward Island and in the Maritimes, and we don't know exactly why that is," she said.

"It could be because there is a great number of lemmings, which is their favourite food in the Arctic, and they had more eggs hatch and success and then they spread out in the winter."

Not on endangered list

Snowy owls are not listed as endangered under Canada's Species at Risk, but they have not been assessed since 1995, Jones said. She suggested perhaps it's time to take another look.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature recently listed the species as vulnerable.

"We know that as an Arctic species they are particularly susceptible to things like climate changem and so it could be that they are in need of being reassessed," she said.

"Certainly, it's one of those things that's on people's radar."

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning

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