Lake Andes (US): A species of majestic, mostly white owls famous for its role as Harry Potter`s companion in the books and movies is being sighted in abundant numbers this winter far from both Hogwarts and its native Arctic habitat.
It`s typical for snowy owls to arrive in the US every three or four winters, but this year`s irruption is widespread, with birders from the Pacific Northwest to New England reporting frequent sightings of the yellow-eyed birds.
As many as 30 were spotted in December around South Dakota`s
Lake Andes. "Thirty in one area, that`s mind numbing," said Mark
Robbins, an ornithologist with the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute.
The arrival of the birds, which can top 2 feet (0.6 meters) in height with a wingspan of nearly 5 feet (1.5 meters), is the result of a plentiful population of Arctic lemmings this summer, which led to a strong breeding season, said Denver Holt, director of the Owl Research Institute in Charlo, Montana.
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. "It`s very unusual, because it`s coast to coast," said Holt, who has been researching the owls` Arctic habitat for 25 years.
Snowy owls are drawn to frozen lakes, which remind them of their tundra back home in the Arctic, Robbins said. "And if they`re finding rodents there, they`re staying there," he said. "And perhaps seeing a couple of more snowy owls there, they may think, `OK, this is a hot spot.”
The owls have been regular visitors to Boston`s Logan Airport, and one even showed up just after Thanksgiving in Hawaii. Chicago`s Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary has become a haven for the creatures, with "countless sightings" this season, said Matthew Cvetas, an Evanston, Illinois, birder.