Originally published on Fri January 6, 2012 4:51 pm
Snowy owls are a rare sight in the United States. They usually live in the Arctic but every third or fourth winter some will venture south.
But this year, the AP reports, there is an abundance of the birds, which garnered almost mythical stature when they were featured in the Harry Potter films.
A map on Ebird.com, a website for bird watchers, shows that in the past few months, the owls have been spotted coast to coast, from Portland to New York and as far south as Oklahoma.
The Kansas City Star reports that in Kansas the birds are coming in rare numbers.
"We might go a lifetime without seeing this magnitude" again, ornithologist Mark B. Robbins at the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute, told the paper. "I recognized pretty quickly that when things started happening early ... this was a pretty big invasion."
The Daily News in Newburryport, Mass. reports that the snowy owls are "causing a stir with birders."
WPTZ, of Burlington, Vermont, reports that the North Country has had more than two dozen sightings since October.
So what is sending the owls down south?
The AP explains it's result of a big population of Arctic lemmings — the small rodents often depicted jumping off cliffs en masse — which caused a great breeding season. "Lemmings are snowy owls' main food source, and the baby boom is sending many of the youngsters across the border to scrounge for voles, field mice, rats, rabbits and shore birds," the AP reports.
This probably means, if you're even a little bit of a bird watcher, this is a good winter for a long stroll in the woods. Snowy owls are hard to miss: They have a white face, can be as tall as 2 feet and have a 5-foot wingspan.