Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Arctic Snowy Owl Calls an Orange County Neighborhood Home… For Now

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Throughout the holiday season and into the new year, the Orange County city of Cypress has been graced by the presence of snowy owl whose natural habitat is the frozen, forsaken Canadian tundra. No one knows how the fluffy avian got to the alien climate of a community about 25 miles from Downtown L.A., or how long he’ll stay, but the bird is already getting national attention to rival Griffith Park’s legendary mountain lion, P-22.

The owl, which first appeared in mid-December, has been spotted in the area every day since December 27. Now, experts and locals alike are asking what, exactly, brought it there and how long it can possibly stay. 

Chris Spurgeon, program chair and member of the board of directors at the Pasadena Audubon Society, told CNN about the peculiarity of the bird’s new residence of choice, recalling the long trek he once made to Canada in -25 °F weather to spot a snowy owl for himself. 

“I never thought I’d see one standing in my shirtsleeves on a suburban street in 70-degree weather,” he said. After all, the vulnerable species typically makes its habitats in cold tundras, not sun-dappled subdivisions. 

One of my bucket list birds is the #SnowyOwl. Always figured I’d have to visit my friend Mo in frigid New Hampshire to maybe see one. Instead I only had to go less than an hour from home, down to Cypress CA. In a neighborhood. Huh. pic.twitter.com/2MYKiJ2pJA

— Kathy Degner (@CaliKatBird) December 30, 2022

The mystery of the bird’s appearance is only furthering local and national fascination as visitors flock—pardon the pun—to the neighborhood to see if they can catch a glimpse of the avian anomaly. Did he hitch a ride on a cargo ship? Take a wrong turn in his migratory path? Escape the confines of life as an illegally kept house pet? 

Victor Leipzig, a birding teacher at Saddleback College, told the New York Times that when he visited the neighborhood to catch his own glimpse of the owl, he met people who had driven from over 100 miles away to have a look. Another birdwatcher spoke to ABC7 about driving seven hours on a quest that led to what he called, “The best day of my life.” Crowds have reached an excess of 30 people at a time, watching as the owl surveys his new terrain, flitting from rooftop to rooftop, maybe even basking in the gaze of so many well-wishers. 

Photographers and birders from around Southern California gathered in a neighborhood near Holder street in Cypress, CA to view a #snowyowl Saturday. The birds are common in Canada and northern latitudes but are rarely seen as far south as Southern California. pic.twitter.com/JugzeUWxDX

— David Crane (@vidcrane) December 31, 2022

Indeed, California is no stranger to embracing its wildlife visitors. There was P22, of course, but there was also Reggie the alligator who long took up residence in Lake Machado, not to mention OR-7, the first wolf to enter California in decades

And in April 2022, the Los Angeles Times reported on Annie, a female peregrine falcon who had been sheltering and laying eggs atop UC Berkeley’s 307-foot-tall Sather Tower with her mate, Grinnell. Today, the YouTube page dedicated to live streams and behind the scenes glimpses of the peregrine pair has over 11,000 subscribers. When Grinnell died in March, the community collectively mourned, his void deeply felt.

It’s hard to say why these animal visitors seem capable of garnering such dedicated human followings. Even harder to say how long we’ll get to have these new friends in our neighborhoods. Experts have already started asking not just how long the owl will stay, but how long it can stay. Will he have enough to eat? Will he survive the California heat so opposed to the arctic habitat his species normally gravitates to?

At least for now, the chance to witness something really miraculous is hidden in plain sight, tucked among the rooftops of community members all too happy to call the bird their own for however long.

Got the Orange County snowy owl! Lifer 552 (if it counts). What a beautiful bird. Yesterday morning this time I was still in Europe. I’m lucky my parents live so close to this random CA neighborhood. pic.twitter.com/URYiNKcTG4

— Elaine T (@elntangle) December 29, 2022

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