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How and where to see the snowy owl in Madison, WI

Snowy owl

The snowy owl perched on Lake Monona | Photo by @amfphotos2020

While Madison is normally preoccupied with one type of bird, this week the city has turned its attention to another — Bubo scandiacus, the snowy owl.

Late last week, local birders and photographers began spotting the snowy owl taking temporary residence on our very own Lake Monona. The apex predator is native to arctic regions, often residing in treeless tundra above the arctic circle. During the winter season some birds take flight due south — part of the species “irruption” — ending up in areas across southern Canada and northern US, a few of which will make it all the way to Wisconsin. This will be the first recorded migration of this kind since 2017-18.

Having identified our visitor, let’s talk about where + how to spot the snowy owl — safely and respectfully.

📍 Spotted on Lake Monona: snowy owls will perch on just about anything, be on the lookout for floating beds of ice or other places the bird could roost.

⏰ The snowy owl is diurnal, meaning it is active during the day — unlike other owl species. While they can be seen at any time of day, peak times include dusk + dawn.

📸 If you intend to go bird watching, be sure to review the DNR’s viewing considerations like avoiding flash photography and knowing when you may be too close to the owl.

🗺️ Help chart + record recent sightings of the owl using eBird — an online tool designed to help report and view bird findings.

If you’ve got any tips, photos, or stories related to our visiting owl friend — send us a note and maybe we’ll feature you in upcoming content.