A very rare owl native to the Arctic excites Americans

Night has fallen in Washington, but they are a few dozen curious people to observe, binoculars or telephoto lens in hand, an extraordinary apparition: a sumptuous raptor from the Arctic, perched very close to the American Capitol.

The rumor has been circulating for a few days: a snowy owl is in town. “It’s great,” enthuses Meleia Rose, wrapped up in a large coat. “I’ve been bird watching for a long time, and this is the very first time I’ve seen a snowy owl! I will put it on my list. »

A young female

Bird watching is a popular activity in the United States, and the presence for a week, in the heart of the federal capital, of this lord of the tundra constitutes an event for enthusiasts. Like many evening curious, Meleia Rose was alerted by eBird, a network powered by amateur ornithologists who report the presence of rare birds to the community – 200 million observations noted in 2021 worldwide by 290,000 enthusiasts. This time, the photographers are set up neither in the forest nor on the shores of a lake, but between the imposing façade of Washington’s Union Station and a busy boulevard, on this central reservation populated by homeless tents and infested with rats, prey to this snowy owl.

This one is identified, with its mottled gray and white plumage, as a young female. Perched from the top of a statue as if in the middle of the tundra, she scans the station esplanade with her white-rimmed yellow eyes, on the lookout for any rodent that might end up in her claws.

“Creatures from Another World”

Among the crowd of curious, these last days in front of Union Station, the Swiss ambassador in the United States, Jacques Pitteloud, passionate about ornithology. “To see the snowy owl in such an unlikely setting was a very special pleasure,” the diplomat told AFP, who had “for a long time” had the snowy owl on his “list”. With their huge white wings, these “birds of snow and ice” are “like creatures from another world”, marvels Kevin McGowan, professor at the ornithology laboratory at Cornell University.

The snowy owl nests in the Arctic areas of the Polar Circle in the summer, and most individuals migrate south to spend the winter – but usually stop at the Canada-US border. His presence in such a southern zone, “is like having a polar bear in his neighborhood”, continues the ornithologist.

Hedwig, follower of Harry Potter

“It’s a fascinating bird, even more so for bird lovers in the Washington area, where it’s really rare. It’s a hell of a thing! “, confirms to AFP Scott Weidensaul, co-manager of the SnowStorm project, which lists its presence in North America.

With their parents pointing to the statue-perch, a handful of children are also trying to catch a glimpse of a bird they may have seen in Harry Potter: the “owl” Hedwig, faithful companion of the sorcerer’s apprentice is a snowy owl.

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