To the editor:
The widespread interest in the snowy owls visiting Kansas this winter is wonderful. However, reports from Clinton Lake make it clear that some uninformed observers are endangering these beautiful, exotic owls by approaching the owls much too closely to watch them and take pictures. Admittedly a thrilling personal experience, but what is the effect on the bird?
Remember that these birds left their northern home because of insufficient food. Whether this is due to a crash in the lemming population or to high populations of owls because last year was an exceptionally good breeding year for them is academic. Either scenario results in starving birds flying south hundreds of miles, often arriving here exhausted and emaciated. Feathers hide the emaciation from field observers, but rehabilitators see it when trying to save an injured owl. Sometimes a snowy doesn’t fly when approached because it is too weak; the human approach causes yet more exhausting stress.
Responsible birders have a strong code of ethics which all wildlife watchers should follow. Two of the most applicable principles: 1. Promote the welfare of birds and their environment by exercising restraint and caution during observation or photography; 2. Practice common courtesy in contacts with other people.
Above all, we want these owls to survive the winter and wing back north in spring. Please, no more thoughtless harassment of our snowy sojourners — give them space. To safely see raptors up close, come to Kaw Valley Eagles Day at Free State High School on Jan. 21.