Best Practices for “Stress Free” Snowy Owl Viewing

How to Watch the Majestic Great Lakes Visitor Safety

Each year, leafless trees and frozen landscapes make winter a great time to glimpse the large, magnificent Snowy Owl - and their appearances across Michigan and the Great Lakes region attract a lot of attention. However, it’s important to remember that winter tends to be a stressful time for birds like the Snowy Owl.

Snowy Owls breed and spend most of their year in the arctic tundra away from humans and urban landscapes. These new places present unfamiliar threats like curious humans, rodent poisoning, and vehicle and power line collisions. Moreover, when Snowy Owls visit the Great Lakes region in winter they often do not display signs of fear towards humans. This can sometimes get them into harmful situations.

Here are a few quick tips for viewing these birds, while helping to keep them stress-free and safe:

Tip #1: Give Snowy Owls space. A good rule of thumb is to view Snowy Owls from a distance, using binoculars or a scope, rather than approaching the owl. If you “flush” the owl, or cause it to move to a new area, you have gotten too close and need to back away or leave. 

Tip #2: Don’t lure owls with audio recordings. While it might be tempting to use audio recordings to attract Snowy Owls closer to you, hearing another owl’s call — even a recorded one — can be stressful to Snowy Owls.

Tip #3: Leave “live baiting” to the pros. Scientists and rehabbers use live bait like mice to entice owls for banding, relocation and rehabilitation. However, this practice can be dangerous for owls when it’s done by photographers and birders looking to get a glimpse. Owls routinely lured by live bait learn to associate people with food, and can be drawn to dangerous places – like roads, or airports - where people can be found.

Tip # 4: Submit your eBird observations to scientists, but keep them hidden from the general public to prevent large gatherings and limit disturbance of Snowy Owls. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to keep your eBird checklist hidden.

By keeping these tips in mind, you can help Snowy Owls on their wintering grounds here in the Great Lakes region!

For more information on safe and respectful Snowy Owl viewing, watch this informational video from our friends at Ottawa County Parks and Recreation.


MI Birds is a public outreach and education program presented by Audubon Great Lakes and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources that works to build and bring together wildlife enthusiasts across the state to engage with and conserve Michigan's birds, wildlife, and public lands.

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