Steven L. Smith, Bellingham, WA Home Inspector (King of the House)


Whatcom County WA -- Rare Snowy Owl Migration

 My friend Curtis Brown, of Curtis C Home Inspections, is not only a competent and an excellent home inspector, whom I often recommend to others, but he is, also, a wonderful photographer. Curtis loves to shoot (with his camera of course) birds. I have, with his permission, used his excellent bald eagle photos in past blogs and online videos.
whatcom county home inspector  
That shot above, taken locally by Curtis, is one of my favorite eagle photos.
Well, here is something new and interesting. About a week ago, Curtis had a long awaited and an exciting opportunity. He received a call from a past client, who said that the snowy owls had appeared at Sandy Point in Ferndale. Big surprise to me, when he told me that, because  I am a Whatcom county native and I have never seen a snowy owl outside of a zoo or a bird sanctuary, nor did I know that they were ever seen here nor did I guess that they would be out gallivanting around during the day. I think of owls as being proverbial "night owls" so to speak.
Below is a shot of a snowy owl, sitting right there by a chimney, at Sandy Point in the middle of the day.
whatcom county home inspection
I was intrigued by the photo and asked Curtis for more information. He told me that snowy owls are Arctic birds that nest and breed in the open tundra of Alaska and Canada as well as Eurasia. They say to heck with trees and nest in indentations on the ground, lining their nests with moss. The main diet of the species consists of lemmings but they will prey on birds and small animals. Snowy owls are prolific hunters, sitting and waiting for available prey, and feeding often.
The average snowy owl is 23 inches high with a 52 inch wing span. Think about it, that is more than 4 feet across and the average bird weighs 4 pounds. Take another look at a snowy owl and put the size of the bird in perspective.
bellingham wa home inspector

So I have lived in Whatcom county for my whole life and I have yet to see a snowy owl in the wild. My question was this: Why are they arriving now?  Apparently, one theory is that the birds are moving south to counter a decline in the lemming population up north. This migration may be contributed to by large numbers of young birds competing for food. The end result -- younger owls venturing beyond their normal range.
In the northwest,  the snowy owls are being spotted mainly in tidal marsh areas -- Boundary Bay and the Fraser River Delta in British Columbia. In Whatcom County, they have been seen at Sandy Point and Lummi Flats. Down in Skagit County, they have been spotted in the Samish Flats and around Fir island.  Because of the owl's constant need for food, and the stresses caused by the species venturing so far out of familiar territory, humans should leave the owls alone -- enjoy them from a distance.

Steven L. Smith

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Comment balloon 10 commentsSteven L. Smith • January 12 2012 04:01PM


Hi Steven,

Beautiful eagle and snow owl pictures! Your friend did a wonderful job especially the eagle flying in mid air; so nice and clear.

Posted by Kristin Hamilton CA Realtor, (909) 557-6966- Specialize 55+ Communties Banning (Sun Lakes Realty) about 8 years ago

Good afternoon, Steve. Really cool photos. I cannot say that I have ever seen a snowy owl in the wild either...

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) about 8 years ago

Nice photos and good post about these beautiful birds. I would love to see one in the wild. 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) about 8 years ago

First of all, I would like to thank you Steve for exposing me as a bird lover and a competent home inspector. However, describing me as a wonderful photographer might be a bit of a stretch. As with most everything in life, due diligence eventually pays off. I am still looking what I would consider the perfect photo. (or at least a better one)

Snowy OwlThis fella was fairly close, and seemed very undisturbed by the fact that I was standing pretty much directly below.


Spotting the Snowy Owl this season is a first for me too. Can't say that I have seen one outside of a picture in a book before. This has been extremely exciting for me, and while the opportunity presents itself I will continue to seek out better photographs of these majestic creatures.


I did have an interesting experience last time I went down to Sandy Point looking for the owls. I spotted one on a chimney, which coincidentally is the home of the past client Steven referred to in this blog. I noticed the owl was standing there with partially outstretched wings. In the photo below you can see the shoulders away from its body.Owl on the chinmey











At first I was slightly startled and intrigued by its stance. I started to think about it, and the first thing that came to mind was it might be protecting its prey. But then on second thought, taking into account that these birds are from the Arctic, maybe  it's airing its wings out in our balmy weather...? Hmmm?


So I waited and observed from a respectable distance, and this happened.....


Sandy Point, Snowy Owl

If you look closely at this blurry photograph above, you can faintly see that my first assumption was correct. This guy is holding onto his lunch and has decided to take it elsewhere.

Another interesting tidbit that peaked my interest. I recently had a conversation with Dave Schmalz with the North Cascade Audubon Society. And in that conversation he mentioned to me that snowy owls have the capability of flying in excess of 70 mph.... Which may explain why many of my in-flight photos turn out like this:

Sandy Point, Snowy Owl

Or this...

Sandy Point, Snowy Owl

If or when that better shot somehow shows up in my camera I will be happy to share it with you fine folks here at the rain.


Thank you for your post Steve.


Posted by Curtis C. Brown (CURTIS C HOME INSPECTION SERVICES, LLC (Whatcom County, WA) about 8 years ago

Doesn't this photo reminds you of one of the Muppets....?

Sandy Point, Snowy Owl

Posted by Curtis C. Brown (CURTIS C HOME INSPECTION SERVICES, LLC (Whatcom County, WA) about 8 years ago

Great shots of the snowy owl Curtis.  Thanks for sharing.

Posted by Jack Gilleland (Home Inspection and Investor Services, Clayton) about 8 years ago


That lower shot is pretty amusing in my book.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) about 8 years ago

I had a friend tell me it looked like the Muppet's "snowbert". Don't know that character. For some reason it reminds me of that janitor on those old Pink Panther cartoons.



Posted by Curtis C. Brown (CURTIS C HOME INSPECTION SERVICES, LLC (Whatcom County, WA) about 8 years ago

Hi Steven, I love all these phootos and these biirds are so stunning. I saved one by retreiving it from netted Chrsitmas lights and wrapped it in a towel and held it as it was being attached by a slew of crows. It was so beautiful and I held it until the crows flew off and let it go when it was safe. 

Posted by William Johnson, Retired Real Estate Professional (Retired) about 8 years ago

Great photos all.  Interesting that they seem to be migrating south.  And why not if there is food here.

And I have heard that it's best for us not to be like lemmings.  Now I have another reason!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 8 years ago