Washington – “It’s like having a polar bear in your neighborhood”

Washington – “It’s like having a polar bear in your neighborhood”
Washington – “It’s like having a polar bear in your neighborhood”

PublishedJanuary 15, 2022, 07:25

Ornithologists are passionate about an owl from the Arctic, which recently took up residence in the American capital.

A snowy owl is visiting town, which is very rare.


Night has fallen in Washington, but they are a few dozen curious people to observe, binoculars or telephoto lens in hand, an extraordinary apparition: a sumptuous raptor from the Arctic, perched very close to the American Capitol. The rumor has been circulating for a few days: a snowy owl is in town. “He’s there!” exclaims one of the day’s birdwatchers, and the tripods gallop to find a better angle of view.

“It’s great,” enthuses Meleia Rose, wrapped up in a large coat. “I’ve been bird watching for a long time, and this is the very first time I’ve seen a snowy owl! I’ll put it on my list.” Birdwatching is a popular activity in the United States, and the week-long presence of this tundra lord in the heart of the nation’s capital is an event for enthusiasts.

rare bird alert

From here, “you can see the Capitol… It’s striking, this contrast between wildlife and the city, particularly in Washington, with all these emblematic monuments”, she continues. Like many evening curious, Meleia Rose was alerted by eBird, a network powered by birdwatchers who report the presence of rare birds to the community.

This time, the photographers are installed neither in the forest nor on the shores of a lake, but between the imposing facade of the Washington station, Union Station, and a busy boulevard. The owl is identified, with its mottled gray and white plumage, as a young female. Perched from the top of a statue as if in the middle of the tundra, she scans the station esplanade with her white-rimmed yellow eyes, on the lookout for any rodent that might end up in her claws.

An air of “Harry Potter”

Among the crowd of onlookers, in recent days in front of Union Station, the Swiss ambassador to the United States, Jacques Pitteloud, passionate about ornithology. “Seeing the snowy owl in such an improbable setting was a very special pleasure,” marvels the diplomat. With their parents pointing at the statue-perch, a handful of children are also trying to catch a glimpse of a bird they may have seen in Harry Potter: the “owl” Hedwig, faithful companion of the sorcerer’s apprentice is a snowy owl.

The snowy owl nests in the Arctic areas of the Polar Circle in the summer, and most individuals migrate south to spend the winter – but usually stop at the Canada-US border. His presence in such a southern area, “is like having a polar bear in his neighborhood,” notes Kevin McGowan, professor at Cornell University’s ornithology laboratory.


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