owls and the cold

We are in the midst of a deep-freeze here in Finland.

It’s been as cold as -26 or -27C (last Wednesday) and while the temperature has been mostly around 10C warmer than that, it’s still been very cold. This year – more than earlier years – I’ve really felt it. That might be because Turku hasn’t had a ‘real winter’ for a few years, plus I was away in the UK for the three winters before that – so somehow my physical memory has been partially erased (or something!). Whatever the reason, this deep-freeze has been a real shock to my system to say the least, but the beautiful blue skies and winter sunshine and the fact that the days are lengthening have each had a really positive impact on my mood, but yes, cold it is. On that we must surely agree!

Owls struggle with the cold too it seems. The peak mortality for barn owls in the UK is in December – March, and the main cause of death is starvation. There simply isn’t enough for them to eat. Their normal prey (small mammals) become less active in the winter (some even hibernate), that means their prey are quieter and therefore it is much harder for the owls to hunt them down. What’s more barn owls are poorly insulated themselves (their natural habitat was further south) and so they end up using up precious energy to keep warm. It’s a somewhat viscous cycle.

The Snowy Owl (with which, by now, you’ll have noticed I have quite a fascination) is well adapted to its cold arctic habitat. It has lovely thick feathers from head to toe to protect it from the severe arctic weather, and if there isn’t enough food, if prey is scarce, the snowy owl has an enviable survival strategy. It flies south! What a smart creature.

That strategy is not without risks, however. A few days ago I blogged about a Snowy Owl miles from home in Washington DC  but generally the snowy owl heads for less urban destinations and survives well in Canada,  and more rural parts of the northern United States. It also comes to Finland for its winter respite.

The Snowy Owl is the rarest of all owls in Finland. Its not resident here, but rather a winter visitor escaping even more extreme winter conditions than we see here. That’s hard to imagine for this English woman. If I were to be a winter migrant I’d head for the Canary Islands or Florida, and join the flocks of ‘snowbirds’ there, escaping the cold, grey and misery of northern winters, and lapping up the vitamin D from the extra day length and enjoying the heat of the sun.

Do you know the song I’m an Englishman in New York (by Sting)? Sometimes I really identify with the idea that I’m a legal alien. I’m a resident here, but at times Finland feels so alien to me – and me to it, especially in the winter.

 

 

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