Birders Predict Another Snowy Owl 'Irruption' In 2014, ornithologists documented record numbers of snowy owls wintering unusually far south. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Talkin' Birds host Ray Brown about this year's numbers.
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Birders Predict Another Snowy Owl 'Irruption'

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Birders Predict Another Snowy Owl 'Irruption'

Birders Predict Another Snowy Owl 'Irruption'

Birders Predict Another Snowy Owl 'Irruption'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/384503020/384503021" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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In 2014, ornithologists documented record numbers of snowy owls wintering unusually far south. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Talkin' Birds host Ray Brown about this year's numbers.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Tomorrow morning, you can hear a show about birds.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCKIN' ROBIN")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: A bird show, I like that.

RAY BROWN: Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLY LIKE AN EAGLE")

STEVE MILLER BAND: (Singing) I want to fly like an eagle.

SIMON: For nearly a decade, Ray Brown has informed listeners every Sunday about bluebirds and barn swallows. He's offered advice about nesting materials to attract titmice - yes, that's what they're called - and compared the song of a warbler to the opening notes of Beethoven's second symphony. Mr. Brown joins us now from the studios of WGBH in Boston. Thanks so much for being with us.

BROWN: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: We particularly want to talk today about something called a snowy owl irruption.

BROWN: Irruption.

SIMON: Now, that's not a bunch of snowy owls coming out of a volcano, right?

BROWN: No, they're coming out of the Arctic. You know, Scott, last year was a gigantic year for snowy owls down into eastern and southern Canada and the Lower 48, the biggest eruption, in fact, in about 60 years. There were snowy owls all the way down through into Florida. And there was at least one, in fact, reported in Bermuda last year.

SIMON: What does it mean that we're seeing all these snowy owls?

BROWN: The prevailing theory - and I think it's pretty well accepted - was that in 2013, there was a big, big population of lemmings, which is one of the big foods of snowy owls and the primary food that snowies feed to their chicks. So when you get this big population explosion of lemmings as a food source, the snowies reproduce that much more so they reproduced a lot. There's a kind of a now iconic photo of a snowy owl nest ringed by 70 lemming carcasses awaiting service as food for the snowy owl chicks. So a lot of those young birds had to go somewhere else to get food so they headed south.

SIMON: We have a recording of a snowy owl.

BROWN: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SNOWY OWL)

SIMON: Now, what is he saying? Throw the ball, Russell Wilson, throw the ball.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: I think there was a roughing the passer on that - maybe.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Have any of the owls been tagged?

BROWN: Many, many have been tagged, yeah. There's a new thing called Project SNOWstorm and there you have really sophisticated tracking units. So they can really pinpoint with a triangulation with satellites about where these owls are going. And the cool thing with this technology is these transmitters will store the information, and they can find out just exactly where these snowy owls went.

SIMON: Can I ask a question about your radio show?

BROWN: Sure.

SIMON: Radio station WATD in Marshfield, Mass., and ATD stands for?

BROWN: We're at the dump.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Everybody who works for a radio station feels that way, but you, you've got a little more cause than most, right?

BROWN: Yes, indeed. Well, they put the station on the air I think about 25 years ago. They were being denied locations for their tower, and they finally got the OK to put it at the town landfill. And so they decided all right, we're going to be there. We're going to be - we're at the dump.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: And is that a good spot for bird-watching?

BROWN: Actually it is, yeah. There's a lot of birds to be seen at places like dumps and stump dumps as well and also sewage lagoons.

SIMON: You have a beautiful hobby, beautiful pastime, Ray.

BROWN: (Laughter).

SIMON: Ray Brown is the host of Talkin' Birds. You can hear his show live on Sunday mornings at talkinbirds.com. Thanks very much.

BROWN: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCKIN' ROBIN")

BOBBY DAY: (Singing) The wise old owl, the big black crow flapping them wings singing go, bird, go.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds? I love that show.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCKIN' ROBIN")

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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