Most winters, North American snowy owls don’t descend much below the Great Lakes or Cape Cod region, Weidensaul said.
However, “during the years of irruption, they tend to go further south than they usually would,” he said. “A lot of the snowy owls that we see now in the East and Upper Midwest are young birds, on their first migration. “
On eBird, a non-profit platform used by bird watchers, snowy owls have been reported this winter in Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina and Maryland.
Since its first appearance, the Capitol Hill owl has attracted a few dozen bird watchers every night in the hopes of spotting the same species of owl that conveys messages to Harry Potter.
Viewers have included new bird watchers and those who have been doing so for decades, like Swiss Ambassador to the United States Jacques Pitteloud, many hoping for a “life sentence” – the first time a bird watcher has seen a particular bird.
Last Thursday, the owl perched on a bronze eagle atop a flag pole. Then it flew away, its 5-foot white wingspan silhouetted against the inky night sky, to land on a large stone globe held by sculpted birds, forming part of an ornate fountain.
Ambassador Pitteloud took his camera tripod and ran into the grass for a better view. When later posting on Facebook, the 50-year-old veteran ornithologist wrote: “Union Station superstar! Snowy Owl, a life sentence for me in a very, very unlikely setting!