Do Not Disturb: Please Enjoy Acadia's Snowy Owls From A Distance

White snowy owl perched atop a spruce tree in distance White snowy owl is flushed into flight off its perch atop a spruce tree
A snowy owl flying from spot to spot in winter daylight usually isn’t “just moving around.” NPS Photo
You will know you’re too close if the bird reacts to your presence in any way. NPS Photo
Profile view of head of Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl

Historic photo courtesy of the National Park Service, Acadia National Park

As exciting as it is to see these amazing birds, observers should keep in mind that a snowy owl has traveled thousands of miles to get to Acadia National Park. Birdwatchers and photographers should keep their distance to avoid stressing or flushing the bird. You will know you’re too close if the bird reacts to your presence in any way.

Park researchers have a number of interesting unanswered questions surrounding snowy owls. For instance, assumptions about the owl's diet consisting mainly of small mammals likely are not strictly true. Researchers are also curious about the bird's seasonal activity patterns. In the arctic, where snowy owls summer and breed, they are diurnal out of necessity since it is nearly always light. Here in Maine, where the birds migrate for winter, researchers believe snowy owls take advantage of the opportunity to be nocturnal. They tend to be active and forage primarily at night, and then roost and sleep during the day.

All wildife need to manage activity and energy reserves carefully in winter. Squandered energy due to human disturbance can affect survival rates as food gets scarce, as well an animal's eventual fitness for migration, and breeding success months later and thousands of miles from here.

Park researchers caution observers that an owl flying from spot to spot in winter daylight usually isn’t “just moving around.” It may be responding to pressure and harassment, even if it’s not immediately evident to observers.

  • TIP: Use a spotting scope and a telephoto lens or binoculars. If you stay far enough away from the snowy owl you may be able to observe the bird much longer than if your nearness causes the owl to fly away.
  • TIP: All dogs should always be on a leash in Acadia National Park. Nevertheless, we have received reports of dogs off leash near snowy owls. Snowy owls chased by dogs may never come back if Acadia proves to be a threatening habitat.

Learn more about other birds found in Acadia National Park.

Snowy owl perched on a rock
Photo courtesy of Nathaniel Child @nathaniel_child. Used with permission.

Nathaniel Child, of Bangor, Maine, shares a photo he took in February 2019. "Prior to moving to Bangor from Connecticut last year, I had only seen snowy owls in sand dunes along the coast, and didn't realize that they would hang out on mountain tops too. Needless to say, I was pretty excited when I found out that Acadia hosted a surprisingly large number of snowy owls during the winter ... I was able to hike up and spend most of the day watching anywhere from two to six owls before catching the sunset and enjoying a night hike off the mountain."

Last updated: January 14, 2020