Wildlife tracks in the snow indicate of a lot of coming and going in the nighttime world. Why are so many animals active, given their limited ability to see in the dark?
There's the obvious reason: division of resources helps avoid competition. A red-tailed hawk hunts the same fields by day that a great horned owl hunts by night. Night also offers some animals protection from their main predators. Mice lie low by day, but in the wild—and in my house—they come out at night.
Most of the snowy owl sightings have been along the coast where a flat, open landscape resembles their native tundra. Reports from New Hampshire birders include sightings of up to nine in a single day. On Nantucket, the annual Christmas Bird Count found 33, far surpassing the previous count record of four.
Once a common species in California and across North America, the Western burrowing owl has become a rarer and rarer sight over the last three decades given habitat loss and other environmental perils the bird faces.
Barred owls, New Hampshire's most common owl species, also have the most familiar courtship and territorial song—usually translated as, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?" It can be heard all year, day or night, but really revs up as owl breeding season begins in late winter. Owls are early nesters.
Wildlife produce their young when their primary food resource is most abundant. Mice, rabbit and squirrel populations are exploding when owl hatchlings on a continual growth spurt require frequent feeding.