Watching Harry Potter is the closest any of us–especially those of us in the southern half of the nation–are likely to ever get to a snowy owl, those gorgeous, magnificent birds who haunt the far north. Most years the continent’s snowy owls winter across Canada and, occasionally, the far northern tier of the United States. But every few years or so, the rest of the country is treated to what’s called an “irruption” in which large numbers of snowy owls migrate much farther south than normal.

Snowy Owls Spotted in Northern States Due to Irruption Year

Better grab your binos and channel your inner birder, because it’s an “eruption year.”

From this story on
_A snowy owl looks pretty much like you’d expect from its name, much of its body as white as snow. It’s also as large as a hawk, making it a pretty remarkable sight to see. Usually, though, you’d have to do some pretty significant traveling to see one. This year, not so far. In most years, snowy owls are arctic birds, nesting on the tundra and coming south only irregularly. Every so often — probably due to shortage of food — large numbers flee the dark, cold arctic and find themselves south of Canada. The winter of 2011-2012 appears to be one of these winters. Over the past three weeks, snowy owls have appeared all across the northern tier of states.

Snowy owls have even been known to come as far south as Oklahoma and Texas. In fact, I photographed the snowy owl above a few years back during a blizzard on a national wildlife refuge in western Oklahoma some eighty miles south of where I live.* During that same eruption year, another snowy owl was seen just north of the Red River and another in the Texas panhandle. And even if you’re not normally a birdwatcher, the opportunity to view a bird as majestic, wild and foreign as the snowy owl in such an incongruous setting as the middle of an Oklahoma wheat field is well worth the effort.

Has anyone been lucky enough to see a snowy owl in this rare “eruption” year?

*And if you want to know how I knew there was a snowy owl at that national wildlife refuge, check out today’s Man’s Best Friend for a pretty cool waterfowler tip!