LEAPING LEMMINGS, THEY TASTE GOOD!
In the frozen wastelands of the Arctic tundra, the snowy owl makes a nest on a small rise so it can lay its large clutch of eggs, which may number a dozen. Even whiter than a polar bear or Arctic fox, the owl is well camouflaged, looking more like a clump of snow or a rock while it sits on its nest. Time is of the essence: Despite the brevity of the Arctic summer, the hatchlings must be ready to strike out on their own by autumn. The snowy owl is the biggest bird of prey in the Arctic region and one of the world’s largest owl species—even bigger than the great horned owl of the Americas. A snowy owl’s survival largely depends on the availability of lemmings, those poor rodents that must endure the misconception that they commit suicide by jumping off a cliff (the truth is they migrate in large groups and are decent swimmers, and sometimes they die while trying to cross a body of water that’s too big for them). In years when the lemming population is huge, snowy owls lay more eggs than usual, and the resulting population explosion sends them on an “irruption” to southern climes they normally wouldn’t visit. In winter 2013–2014, the Canadian Arctic experienced the biggest irruption in perhaps a century, and snowy owls were spotted as far south as Florida and even on Bermuda. It’s a long way to travel, but they live to have the last laugh.