How easy is it to see a snowy owl in Brooklyn this winter? Your odds are pretty good–if you’re willing to haul yourself out to Floyd Bennett Field, an old timey airport on Brooklyn’s shore. I got to see one today after looking on eBird and figuring it was the most likely spot.
At first things did not look good. A ranger said no one had seen any of the snowy owls since Thursday when a group of birders got too aggressive and scared two owls off. She said the grassy areas off the closed runways were the most likely place to see one. The fields have a depressing lot of white plastic bags blowing around, all of which can be mistaken for owls.
No, don’t worry, there was no one out there to shoot them. The airport itself is only sort of in use as a training ground; it’s mainly a park. So they’re pretty safe here from planes and the Port Authority, which had taken up blowing them to bits with a shotgun last month, the Daily News Reported. The killed three of these almost mythical birds before the ensuing outrage got them to stop. A record number of snowy owls are spending the winter all down the east coast; the leading theory is that the owls population surged along with the lemmings’ population.
The park workers seemed quite protective of the owls. The ranger warned me not to walk on the grass and park my car away from whatever side they might be on. My husband, daughter and I walked around for an hour or so, seeing nothing more interesting than a couple dozen Brandt geese. We saw plenty of people cruising around also looking for the snowy owls. Then we gave up and turned around.
As we were leaving I saw a white blog on a a field right off the old runways. I kept expecting the blog to turn into a plastic bag or gull, but as we got closer it reashlly started to look like an owl. Just as I got out of my car, a car and van full of birders with showy cameras pulled up. Then other cars, realizing what was going on, pulled over to get in on the show.
We all gleefully watched the owl until we got too cold. All About Birds says they “do a lot of sitting.” They certainly do. This bird, I think a grown female from her brown feathers, did not move her feet in half an hour. She turned her head. She looked that the police helicopters that kept buzzing over. She bobbed her head and groomed herself. But she sat put.
So if you count just the last five days, you had a 40% shot of seeing one of if you went out there. If you’re there when someone else knows it’s there, odds are you’ll see it.