Residents in Queen Anne have reported sightings of a rare snowy owl, the likes of which are seldom seen in the area. Bird watchers are flocking to the area for what they call a “once-in-a-lifetime” sighting.
The snowy owl, which is one of the largest birds in North America, is native to the Arctic and is hardly ever spotted in Washington state.
Eric James, a member of Washington Bird Watchers, was lucky enough to snap several photos of the stark white owl on Nov. 28.
“All of the other photos I have seen have been on rooftops, so it took me by surprise that it was actually in a tree. The crows that finally drove this guy away were actually my clue to where he was perched.”
On Nov. 22, University of Washington biology professor Carl Bergstrom also shared a photo of the owl on social media. In the picture, the bird appears to be perched on a rooftop in front of a brick chimney.
“So today I saw a bird I’d never seen before,” he wrote. “It’s a rarity, a snowy owl that came down to Seattle for whatever reason and was hanging out in Queen Anne.”
The professor said it was the last bird he’d expected to spot in Western Washington.
“I was [expecting] to see my first somewhere on frozen windswept tundra, but given everything else going on this year I’ll take it.”
According to the snowy owl research group, Project Snowstorm, the snowy owl typically sticks close to the tundra but has been known to migrate across the Canadian border on occasion.
In a phenomenon known as “irruption,” groups of snowy owls sometimes migrate south for reasons researchers don’t always understand. Small irruptions can happen as often as every four or five years, but larger flock migrations are rare, occurring perhaps once or twice in a lifetime.
So far this winter, there have only been a few snowy owl sightings on this side of the border, according to Cornell Lab.
Cornell University’s identification guide also illustrates that the spotted brown pattern on the owl’s feathers shows it’s a female.
Most owls are nocturnal; however, the snowy owl happens to be an early bird that stays awake during the daytime. It isn’t uncommon to see this species perching high up on fence posts, telephone poles, and rooftops. They can sometimes be spotted by patient bird watchers with binoculars.
Residents have joined bird watchers in attempting to catch sight of the rare owl, which tends to be a solitary creature.
One 9-year-old boy was afforded the chance to see the snowy owl. Max spoke to NBC about his experience.
“I think it’s beautiful,” he said. “There was an expert here yesterday, and they were saying this is a once-in-a-lifetime bird.”
For anyone trying to catch sight of the bird, experts advise maintaining a 100-foot distance from the snowy owl to avoid disturbing it.
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