The past few days, a rare snowy owl has been spotted in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, and the new resident knows how to draw a crowd. The stark-white bird has spent several days hanging around rooftops in the area, before winging off at sunset. On Tuesday, a small group of birdwatchers gathered in an alley to watch the creature.
Among those onlookers were 9 year old Max and his neighbor Aditi. Max has been bird-watching for a few months now, and went searching when he heard it was nearby. He didn't have to go far they found it just blocks from home. "I think it's beautiful. And there was an expert here yesterday, and they were saying this is a once in a lifetime bird," young Max said.
The bird likely has traveled a long distance. Seattle and western Washington are along the southern edge of the snowy owl's normal winter range, according to Cornell University's resources on ornithology. But in "irruptive" years, they've been known to range further south based on prey and have been documented as far as Florida and Texas in extreme years.
"In a pandemic year, if it wants to come to Queen Anne, I'll take it," said Carl Bergstrom, professor of biology at the University of Washington and avid birder. He went looking for and found the owl earlier this week, sharing an image on Twitter. "I've been birding for 49 years, and I've never seen one before," Bergstrom said. "So it's really exciting to see a bird that's usually up on the frozen tundra, to have it come down and give us a chance to experience it is amazing."
Hannah Toutonghi is working on her master's degree in Minnesota studying Northern hawk owls. She stopped by Queen Anne on Tuesday. "For birders, it's a prominent 'life-list' owl they want to see, so they'll go up into Canada, up into Alaska – kind of the boreal forests to see one," Toutonghi said. "But for an everyday person, it's pretty rare." Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife notes snowy owls have been spotted wintering in Seattle in past years, though it's still rare. The department also asks that anyone enjoying its presence keep their distance for the owl's safety.
That was no problem Tuesday, as vans of families rolled up looking for the animal, and a small group trained binoculars and camera lenses at the roof roost. The owl calmly watched from the roof, preening and staring back with its large golden eyes. "It's just been standing there as a model, waiting for people to take pictures of it for a while now," Max said. And many people just appreciated the uplifting image in a difficult time. "What I loved about it is everyone just got hooked into this beautiful bird," Max said. You can watch video below.