On this winter morning, a cold stillness has settled over the northern bog. All is quiet as the morning sun paints the horizon with pastel splendor. The large, snow-white figure of an owl perches on a dead snag, surveying his surroundings with yellow eyes. He stands perfectly still, patiently waiting for opportunity to appear on the snow-covered ground below.
A creature of solitude, the Snowy owl spends most of his life sitting alone on the barren landscape. Wise from experience, he knows to wait patiently for his rewards. Like other owls of the far north, this great white owl is an aggressive hunter during daylight hours. His summer home is in the northern Arctic, where night and day are almost indistinguishable.
Snowies are the largest and most powerful of all the North American owls. Their skillful, stealth hunting abilities allow them to catch a variety of prey. Their eyesight is nothing less than remarkable; they can detect the slightest movement on a snowy landscape, even from a great distance.
They are happy to dine on voles and lemmings when those are plentiful, but have the ability to catch large Snowshoe hares or Ptarmigan. When winter arrives, bringing 24-hour darkness to the Arctic, the Snowy owls move south, into the prairie provinces of Canada and the northern U.S. The landscape here provides both food, and perches in the form of trees, poles and fence posts.
To see a Snowy owl in the winter, you must look where they might be. Often as not you'll find them standing alone on a fence post or the top of a tree in a marsh or an open farm field. Their white plumage allows them to blend perfectly into snowy surroundings, making them hard to spot. The Snowy owl is a master of camouflage, a complement to its environment.
The short days and cold nights of January bring the harshest weather of the year, yet for some animals, spring is in the air. The Red fox and the coyotes sing and play courtship games, and are very active both day and night. Their early spring mating games will result in new families in April and May.
The Great Horned owls sing spring love songs to each other, their hooting calls echoing from wooded valleys. In a few weeks, the female owl will be nestled snugly on her two round white eggs, keeping them warm. Great Horned owls are one of the first birds to start nesting in Wisconsin, and a reminder that spring is coming. The reminder is well received on a day with ten inches of new snow and bitter cold. Any signs of spring are welcome.
The deep snow has forced wild turkeys to search for alternate food sources. This morning three of them show up at my bird feeders. It's fun to watch them peck cracked corn off the snow-covered ground just a few feet from my house. At close range I can see how beautiful they really are.
At night, the deer too come to eat the seed that birds have left under the feeders. I see their shadowy figures in the evening and their tracks in the snow the following day. Winter is a challenge the deer face on a daily basis, so their thoughts of spring are yet to come.
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