SuperMum does it again

Snowdrop has laid eggs in the same spot for the last 6 or 7 years...

With so many baby birds growing up around the centre at this time, we thought you may like to know that our 'Supermum' Snowy Owl, Snowdrop, is once again sitting on a clutch of six eggs. To date, this formidable matriach has managed to hatch well over 30 chicks here it Stonham - it seems that the chilly winds of the Mid Suffolk flatlands are too her liking!

Last year Snowdrop raised five babies, with only one egg of the clutch failing to hatch as it proved infertile. Infertility is something that happens on a regular basis with breeding birds of prey and we can determine whether an egg is fertile or not by a process called 'Candling'. This means holding the egg close to a light source such as a torch or (as in medieval times) a candle, which enables you to see ‘through’ the egg - if you can see an embryo developing inside, this is confirmation that there is a chick growing inside.

Snowdrop will be sitting on her ‘scrape’ - the rudimentary nest she scrapes from the ground in her aviary - for approx four weeks. A day or so before the eggs are due to hatch we will take them from the scrape, label them carefully and place them in an incubator, where they will hatch in the order that she has layed them, each usually a day or two apart.

(We do this because Snowdrop has a condition called haemoproteus, which is a form of bird malaria. It is a condition passed from bird to bird via the saliva, so in order to protect the clutch we have to prevent the mother feeding the young - which is why we remove them to the incubator for the last stages of hatching.)

Once hatched the chicks remain in the incubator for a few days, at which point we begin a process called 'imprinting': contrary to popular perception, owls have relatively small brains and so, as the falconers begin to feed the youngsters by hand, they take on the guise of ‘mum’ and so are ‘imprinted’ to the human form as the food source and, if you like, ‘next of kin’. We will keep you posted as to the progress of the chick.

This is our ‘Fetlar’ as a youngster - one of Snowdrop’s first progeny some years ago

Snowy owls come from extremely cold climates and can withstand extraordinarily inclement weather conditions - such as you might find in the Arctic Tundra, where temperatures can drop to -40ºC - which other birds find intolerable. Snowies nest on small outcrops of grassy tussock and blend in perfectly with the surrounding area. The female is always larger of the sexes and has more black speckling on her back, which helps her camouflage herself and her nest from predators.

Snowy Owls are diurnal hunters, which means they hunt their prey at sunrise and sunset. They like to hunt from perches, adopting a sit-and-wait routine, feeding on most ground dwelling mammals such as lemmings and voles.

Although not frequent visitors to the UK, a few pairs have nested on the island of Fetlar, in the Shetlands.