“For many of us, the term snow birds conjures up images of retired loved ones heading south to escape the cold and dreary Midwestern winters. For bird watchers, snow birds take on a whole different meaning,” reports Chris Fox, Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation District coordinator.
The most common of those winter 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 feeders. “They often arrive here about the time of our first snowfall. When they fly, you will often see a flash of bright white along the outer tail feathers,” he says.
Less common in southeastern Indiana, but also bearing the ‘snow’ moniker, is the snow bunting. These birds 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 winter has seen an invasion of these birds in the United States, mostly around the Great Lakes or Northeast. Indiana has seen a number of ‘snowies’ this year as well, mostly in the northern counties, though one was seen as far south as the Evansville airport.
On Jan. 6, a snowy owl was reported in a soybean field in Decatur County near Greensburg. The owl has been there for nearly two weeks and has been seen by many birders and nonbirders from all over the Tristate area, Fox reveals. At times, there have been over 10 cars parked along the edge of the county road with cameras and spotting scopes following the bird’s every move (though for the most part, the owl just sits there sleeping, preening and wondering what all the fuss is about).