Rare sightings of Artic snowy owls have been reported up and down the state over the last month, including along Del. Route 9 near Port Penn and the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge near Smyrna.
Snowy owl sightings are not unheard of in Delaware, although it is generally a chance occurrence, according to Anthony Gonzon, a biologist with DNREC's Division of Fish and Wildlife.
"In any given year, one or two owls may show up throughout the course of the entire winter," he said. "This year, however, is quickly shaping up to be extraordinary and unprecedented."
Gonzon said at least six snowy owls were spotted during the week of Thanksgiving.
The presence of the Artic birds is being attributed to the possible presence of food in Delaware.
Snowy owls typically prey on lemmings, however the lemming populations is the Artic are cyclical. During down years, the owls can disperse widely in search of food sources. Similar dispersion also can occur after a large lemming population, which results in subsequently large broods of snowy owls that must then seek out food sources to support themselves.
The white birds, which can have wingspans up to five feet and weigh more than 6 pounds, are most likely to show up near the largest expanses of open habitat along Delaware's shoreline, but could begin moving inland in search of rodents, Gonzon said.
Birdwatchers should keep their distance and refrain from flushing or disturbing the owls, he said.