Harry Potter's owl Hedwig was a beloved creature in the magical Harry Potter series. Magic seemingly became reality when people began spotting a species of majestic white owls in abundant numbers this winter.
The AP reports that the white, or snowy, owl has been seen across the U.S. though it is native to the Arctic. Apparently, it is common for the snowy owl to arrive in the U.S. every three or four winters. However, this year there is a vast number of them.
Sightings have been reported from the Pacific Northwest to New England. Approximately 30 were spotted in December around South Dakota's Lake Andes. They have become regulars at Boston's Logan Airport. Chicago's Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary has become a popular homebase for the owl, with countless sightings this season. One was spotting just after Thanksgiving in Hawaii.
These beautiful birds stand at 2-feet tall with a wingspan of up to 5-feet. All are born with a mix of white and brown feathers but males eventually lose their brown feathers and most eventually become stark white. Their lifespan is estimated between 10 and 15 years. Snowy owls are fierce predators. They can fly at speeds up to 70 mph.
Thirty in one area, that's mind numbing, said Mark Robbins, an ornithologist with the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute.
Denver Holt, director of the Owl Research Institute in Charlo, Mont., said that the snowy owls are so abundant this year because of the superfluous population of Arctic lemmings this summer. Lemmings are the snow owls' main source of sustenance. This food source led to a strong breeding season.
As baby owls were born in the Arctic, they began moving across the border to look for voles, field mice, rats, rabbits and shore birds. They typically opt for areas near frozen lakes, which remind them of their environment at home.
It's very unusual, because it's coast to coast, said Holt, who has been researching the owls' Arctic habitat for 25 years. And if they're finding rodents there, they're staying there. And perhaps seeing a couple of more snowy owls there, they may think, 'OK, this is a hot spot.'
Bird enthusiasts are excited about the arrival. They are usually nocturnal, so a sighting is a prize.
Here's the largest North American owl in terms of weight, a near all-white ghost of a bird for an adult male, said Matthew Cvetas, an Evanston, Ill., birder who has spotted four snowy owls since November. For me, it symbolizes wilderness at its best.
The snowy owl has always been a greatly revered creature. However, it gained enormous popularity from the Harry Potter series. Holt said the movie series is to thank for the December 2002 National Geographic snowy owl cover story.
We were inundated with phone calls from people about all these kids wanting to have pet snowy owls, Holt said. It just went crazy for a while there.
This new influx of owls comes on the tail of the final Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II.
It's wonderful, Holt said. It's great for snowy owls. It's great PR.