We don’t yet know if it’s an echo year for Snowy Owls (the year after an irruption), but the Bubo scandiacus are once again planting their furry feet on rooftops, sidewalks, meadows and in fir trees around Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. I photographed this Snowy in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood this month. She was dozing in someone’s garden with a branch draped in front of her forehead. I snapped a few shots and kept on walking, not wanting to disturb her after a “hella long” migration from the Arctic tundra.
She was the second Snowy Owl in a week to appear in this dense, urban neighborhood which sits on a hill just east of downtown Seattle. The first Snowy drew a small fan base after she landed in a residential driveway with her dead prey. This same Snowy Owl, too placid from hunger to evade urban dangers, was picked up the next day by Sarvey Wildlife for some regenerative care. Larry Hubbell of the Seattle-local blog Union Bay Watch wrote about that particular owl and her positive recovery at the wildlife center.
Sightings of Snowies followed on nearby Queen Anne Hill, in Discovery Park (my neighborhood), and in Tacoma, south of Seattle, where this short video shows a Snowy recovering (poor owl) after hitting a window at the News Tribune office. We’ll see where the rest of 2012 takes us in terms of Snowy Owl sightings. I will, of course, be looking up toward rooftops and trees as I always do.
The common explanations for Snowy Owl irruptions are: 1) shortage of food (lemmings being their typical diet); or 2) large numbers of young owls seeking new territory. They tend to prefer areas that look like their home biome of tundra, which explains their numbers in Boundary Bay, British Columbia last year. We counted 25 Snowies perched on driftwood over the wetlands:
I’m not sure why Capitol Hill, one of Seattle’s hippest, coffee-rich, tree-lined neighborhoods, appeals to Snowies. There’s no permafrost and there’s a shortage of tundra moss. I’d love to get inside the mind of Snowy to answer this question (among others). That’s why when a Facebook friend recently asked which super power I would choose if I could have one, I picked Dr. Doolittle’s animal communication skill … even though I’m not sure it qualifies, technically, as a super power.