Animals Out Of Place: Rare Snowy Owl Leaves Arctic, Arrives in Southern California – Departs Again

One of the subtexts of this blog is animals in unexpected places. Often it has been sharks departing deep cold water for warmer surface water in the tropics.

Recently. it was the revelation that vampire bats may be moving in to Texas.

Today, it is the recent sighting and eventual departure of an Arctic snowy owl which departed its normal Arctic habitat for Cypress, California. Cypress is an Orange County city about 20 miles south of Los Angeles.

Snowy Owl from Birds of America
Snowy owls ((Bubo scandiacus) are large and powerful bird found in the polar regions and Arctic.

According to the Los Angeles Times the owl has departed again.

But the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service says we may see these owls more frequently.

“It’s that time of year again, when birders and wildlife enthusiasts hope to catch a magical glimpse of a snowy owl. Historically the birds travel southward (well outside their normal range) every four years or so. This is called an irruption. But, for many reasons, not all understood, snowies have been “irrupting” more often, and some predict another banner year for Southern sightings. “

The owls usually don’t come much farther south than Oregon but the female in Cypress certainly didn’t read that memo. According to Fish and wildlife males are almost always snow white while females, like the lady in Cypress, are barred with brown.

South American great horned owl
Great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) are found throughout most of North and South America and prefers forests to tundra. Tundra is the habitat of snowy owls.

The birds are well adapted to arctic cold with plenty of insulating feathers, which makes them heavy. Their wingspan can be 5 feet. Because of their arctic habitat they are more likely to be seen during the day. Most owls are night stalkers.

The agency offers tips if you do happen to see one.

  • Keep a safe distance to observe quietly.
  • Do not play bird calls from your phone or other device.
  • Don’t feed the owls. 
  • Avoid flashes when taking photos.
  • Keep noises to a minimum. 
  • If you find an injured owl: contact your state wildlife agency or local rehabilitator.
  • If you find a dead owl: contact your state wildlife agency.

California, of course, is not without owls. The largest is the Great-horned owl which lives in much of the state. According to Audobon the bird ranges from Canada into South America.

“Found almost throughout North America and much of South America is this big owl. Aggressive and powerful in its hunting (sometimes known by nicknames such as ‘tiger owl’), it takes prey as varied as rabbits, hawks, snakes, and even skunks, and will even attack porcupines, often with fatal results for both prey and predator. Great Horned Owls begin nesting very early in the north, and their deep hoots may be heard rolling across the forest on mid-winter nights.”

close up photography of gray rodent at daytime
There is very little safety for members of the rodentia family. . Rats and mice are on the menu for both owls, By day and by night. Photo by Egor Kamelev on

The two owls avoid conflict as horned owls (hoot owls) are active at night, snowy owls by day. Moreover, hoot owls prefer treed landscape while the more silent snowy owls tend to inhabit tundra.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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