Snowy owl seen in the capital of the country, experts say that it is targeting a large population of rats

A snowy owl has appeared in the nation’s capital, experts say, targeting the city’s large rat population.

The snowy owl was first sighted on January 3, the same day a winter storm produced eight inches of snow in the city, which was away from its summer breeding site in Canada.

Scott Weidensoul, a researcher at the nonprofit Project Snowstorm, which tracks snowy owls’ movements. Some owls migrate south from the Arctic every winter, but numbers vary, he said.

About every three to five years, the population of lemmings, a small rodent, increases. Smithsonian Magazine Reported. Rodents are the main food source of owls, allowing large numbers of owl chicks to survive in years when their population increases. These years are known as “dissolution” years, and more birds will migrate further.

“Snowy owls are coming from a part of the world where they see almost nothing human, from a completely open arctic tundra,” Weidensaul said.

“In dissolution years, they usually go further south than they are,” he said. “We are now seeing a lot of snowy owls in the East and Upper Midwest, young birds on their first migration.”

Most winters, North American snowy owls don’t actually travel down the Great Lakes or Cape Cod region, Weidensaull said.

A snowy owl looks down from its perch on the marble eagle of the Christopher Columbus Memorial Fountain at the entrance to Union Station on January 7, 2022 in Washington, DC. The owl has been sighted in Washington’s Capitol Hill neighborhood since January 3.
Carolyn Custer / AP Photo

Since January 3, snowy owls have been seen flying around Washington’s Capitol Hill neighborhood in the evening, landing on Union Station, the National Postal Museum, various Senate buildings and Capitol Police Headquarters.

Late last week, about three dozen people in thick coats trained their binoculars on a football-sized bird with bright yellow eyes as it perched on the stone head of Archimedes, a famous ancient Greek mathematician, Which was engraved above the entrance of the train station.

On eBird, a non-profit platform used by birdwatchers, snowy owls have been reported this winter in Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina and Maryland.

Since it was first sighted, the Capitol Hill owl has attracted a few dozen birdwatchers each night hoping to see the same owl species that conveys the message to Harry Potter.

Viewers include new birdwatchers and those who have been doing so for decades, such as the Swiss ambassador to the US, Jacques Pitelaud, are hoping for several “lifesavers” – the first time a birdwatcher has seen a particular bird.

Last Thursday, the owl was sitting on a bronze eagle atop a flag. Then it soared, its 5-foot white wings silhouetted against the inked night sky, to descend on a large stone orb held by carved birds, part of an ornate fountain.

Pitelaud picked up his camera tripod and ran through the grass to get a better view. When he later posted on Facebook, the 50-year-old birdwatcher wrote, “Union Station superstar! Snowy owl, a lifesaver in a very unlikely setting for me!”

Kerry Snyder, who lives in Washington, said she has recently become an avid birdwatcher. “I got involved in birding during the pandemic – it’s a great way to connect with people outside, when it’s the safest place.”

She reminded other onlookers not to use flash photography, or to approach the owl too closely, lest the bird feel startled or threatened – good practice for onlookers to see any birds of prey.

Scientists consider snowy owls “vulnerable” to extinction and estimate the total global population to be less than 30,000 birds.

Weidensaull said threats to snowy owls include urban hazards — in particular, vehicle collisions and poisons used to kill prey animals such as rats, which can also kill raptors — as well as climate change. as well.

“The climate is changing more dramatically in the Arctic than anywhere else on Earth,” he said, and that could make such sightings even more rare. In some parts of the Arctic, thinning ice is already reducing the number of years of lemming buoyancy.

After decades of studying snowy owls, Weidensaul still feels awe: “It’s a piece of the Arctic in D.C. City—you wouldn’t see a polar bear walking in front of the White House.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.