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ARCHIVED Weekly News Published November 10, 2015

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Wisconsin continues to provide for excellent snowy owl viewing opportunities

Contact(s): Ryan Brady, DNR research scientist, 715-685-2933

New snowy owl Web page has more information

MADISON -- Observing a snowy owl in the wild can be a thrilling experience, and early reports statewide indicate birders and non-birders alike may be afforded more viewing opportunities this winter.

Snowy owl
Snowy owl
Photo Credit: Ryan Brady

As their name suggests, snowy owls are generally a northern species, nesting worldwide on the treeless tundra above the Arctic Circle. During a typical winter, some remain close to their breeding areas, while others head south into southern Canada and the northern United States, including a small number in Wisconsin each year.

Every handful of years, however, large numbers move into Wisconsin in an event known as an irruption. Why these irruptions occur is not completely understood, but is thought to be closely tied to snowy owls' favorite tundra prey -- small rodents known as lemmings.

Surprisingly, this year marks the third consecutive year, and fourth out of the last five, with an irruption of snowy owls in Wisconsin. As of Nov. 9, approximately 72 snowy owls have been recorded in 37 counties across the state. This compares to only five owls by this date in 2014, while no owls arrived until Nov. 15 in 2013. This year's birds first arrived Oct. 15, nearly a month earlier than most years.

"It's extremely unusual to see irruptions into the same region in three straight years," said Ryan Brady, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources research scientist. "But, this is a mysterious species whose movements and ecology we do not fully understand, largely because of the remote northern haunts it typically calls home."

Snowy owls Web page

To help those interested in learning more about snowy owls, the department has created a new Web page with helpful information, including periodic species updates and viewing tips.

For more information regarding snowy owls in Wisconsin, search keywords "snowy owls."

Viewing opportunities

People can improve their chances of viewing a snowy owl in the wild by understanding the species' habits. Check low-level perches in open, tundra-like habitats around dawn or dusk from November to March. Common habitats include coastal beaches and harbors, open grasslands and agricultural fields, wetland complexes, airports, and vast expanses of ice-covered water bodies.

Snowy owls are not averse to civilization, and can also be found in suburban or urban settings. In these habitats snowy owls eat a wide variety of prey from small rodents to rabbits to ducks and other birds. They can be seen any time of day, though many individuals only roost during daylight hours and actively hunt from dusk to dawn.

Brady asks owl observers to report their sighting to Wisconsin eBird at [exit DNR], an online bird reporting system that helps track snowy owls and other bird species.

Viewing considerations

Some general recommendations for observing snowy owls in the wild include:

According to Brady, these recommendations are especially important this season, as some of the owls have arrived in an exhausted condition and would benefit from as little human disturbance as possible.

"Though the reasons are still unclear, it is obvious that these early-arriving owls are a bit more stressed than the past couple years," Brady noted. "One of the best ways observers can help is to give the birds plenty of space to rest, hunt and recuperate after their long journey south."

People who think an owl may be sick or injured should contact a local DNR office or wildlife rehabilitator for assistance. A directory of rehabilitators can be found at, keyword "rehab."



DNR surface water grant deadlines approaching

Contact(s): Shelly Thomsen, DNR lakes and rivers team Leader, 608-266-0502,; Jennifer Sereno, DNR communications, 608-770-8084,

MADISON -- Lake associations, river groups and local governments are encouraged to apply for surface water grants from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, with the deadline for planning grants coming up Dec. 10.

DNR's grant programs are available to assist applicants with a variety of education, planning and prevention activities related to aquatic invasive species and other lake and river issues. In addition to the Dec. 10, 2015 deadline for planning grants, Feb. 1, 2016 is the deadline for management grants.

"The surface water grant program provides organizations the resources they need to create effective plans for managing lakes and rivers. It enables lake and river groups and local government to take steps toward improving the health of their local water bodies," said Shelly Thomsen, DNR's lakes and rivers team leader, who coordinates the grant effort. "The successes of past grant recipients have made this a popular and competitive program."

Thomsen also highlighted some changes made for the 2016 grant funding year based on feedback from previous grant cycles. Changes include the re-establishment of a less than $10,000 sub-category for lake planning grants as well as aquatic invasive species education, prevention and planning grants. Updated application forms and guides are also available online.

Organizations that are not familiar with the DNR surface water grant program are encouraged to contact their local aquatic invasive species, lake or river coordinator. Local grant coordinators are familiar with both the grant process and the issues affecting local areas.

"The involvement of your local grants coordinator is a key to writing and submitting a competitive grant application," Thomsen said.

For more information on the Lakes and Rivers Grant program, including contact information for local grants coordinators, application materials and changes to the grants program, visit and search "lake grants."



Pocket Ranger mobile application reaches 150,000 downloads

Contact(s): Sawyer Briel, DNR communications, 608-261-0751

Still time to download for the nine day gun deer hunt

MADISON -- The Pocket Ranger application, which has provided outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds with helpful information on the go, has reached 150,000 downloads on Apple or Android mobile devices.

"The technology that is available to hunters and to anyone who enjoys the outdoors is truly amazing," said Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp. "Before you head out to your stand this season, be sure to check out the Pocket Ranger mobile application to get the most out of an already special experience."

The Pocket Ranger mobile application launched in 2013 and is a great way to find a place to enjoy the outdoors, connect with other users, and so much more. Pocket Ranger features include:

To learn more and download the free application, search the Department of Natural Resources website,,for keywords "mobile apps," or search "Wisconsin Pocket Ranger" in the Apple App Store or Android Market from your Apple or Android device.


Read more: Previous Weekly News

Last Revised: Tuesday, November 10, 2015

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