In normal times, the arctic bird of prey known as the Snowy Owl stays up north, feasting upon the flesh of lemmings. But these are not normal times, so the owls have come south with the terrible arctic weather. "They are just absolutely everywhere and there's a lot more coming," says an expert who knows about the owls.
They've been seen on the frigid beaches of Rhode Island and perched atop abandoned factories in Pennsylvania. They're in Arkansas and Brooklyn and even Florida. They are the Snowy Owls, and they are hungry for fresh meat.
But why have so very many of these arctic owls come so far south? It is not because of the terrible cold gripping most of the mainland United States, although the cold certainly doesn't bother an owl from the Arctic Circle.
When the lemmings are scarce in wintertime, the Snowy Owl usually heads down to the southern end of Canada. But in weird times, when the lemmings have all but disappeared, the huge white birds keep going, looking for anything they can carry away: rabbits, squirrels, muskrats, even raccoons! The owls don't mind eating their own kind, either—seagulls, pigeons, ducks, even other kinds of owls are "fair game" for a hungry arctic traveler. But sometimes, the local raptors fight back:
The bird expert quoted above, a Pennsylvania ornithologist named Scott Weidensaul, says the current invasion has "completely upended my life." This is not the typical thing that "birders" get excited about, but an actual invasion with hundreds of Snowy Owls wintering in Eastern Pennsylvania alone.
To see these mysterious raptors and living dinosaurs, you must go outside in the cold. Is there a park or vacant lot nearby? Look around there. The owls also like dunes that remind them of tundra, so beaches are good, and this is one of the very few times when a golf course serves any meaningful purpose.
ALSO: Please do not kill the owls with your guns, or poison the owls, or any of the usual things Americans tend to do when they spot a wonderful creature that has no interest in you unless you're snack-sized. Because of the Harry Potter books and movies, children love the Snowy Owls, so it might be helpful to send the children out with the phone to take some pictures and pretend to be magic, because this might discourage the guy up the street who has all those shotguns.