Young snowy owls have appeared on some beaches in South Jersey for the first time in a few years, with bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts flocking to see the rare appearance.
Some five or six of the birds have been seen so far, and there may be more on the way before the winter is over, according to Virginia Rettig, manager of the Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.
The owls are likely young birds who have flown all the way from the Arctic tundra, seeking unoccupied areas to roost for several weeks. Rettig said they usually make their this far south following particularly bountiful summers in the Arctic.
"These years, when we see a lot of birds way down here, it’s because there's been great food production up where their breeding areas are," she said. "They have a lot of food so their survival rate was a lot higher. So this is generally young birds that we see come down now, and they’re just wandering around looking for places to hang out for the winter."
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Rettig warned that no matter how adorable they are, and how eager a would-be photographer is for a picture, no one should ever get close enough that an owl feels at all threatened.
She also noted that most will roost, or rest on the ground, during the day in beach dunes — and people are prohibited from walking on dunes along the Jersey Shore.
"If you see an owl and it starts fidgeting and it starts looking at you and it sees you, you know you are probably already are disturbing the bird," Rettig said. "You never want to get close enough where you make the bird flush or move away."