During the course of each year, the Chesapeake Bay region is gifted with many unique and beautiful encounters. Within recent years the comet Neowise appeared in the twilight sky above the Bay, roseate spoonbills visited local parks, a painted bunting wooed visitors at Great Falls National Park and even a few sandhill cranes have been locally spotted.
This winter, a rare and beautiful snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus) showed up in Washington, DC, and eventually made her winter home around Union Station. Snowy owls migrate from the arctic region in search of food resources, and are generally driven southward by both a population increase and a lack of local food. They are sometimes seen along the shores of Assateague and Chincoteague, and almost never appear in the middle of a large, populated area such as DC. However, in early December, she was first seen near Reagan Airport and around the National Mall. She finally settled on Union Station as her primary hunting area. Nicknamed “Duchess” by her avid followers, she appears to be a yearling, and is already quite adept at hunting rodents and other prey. She usually appears just after dusk, and likes to perch on the Christopher Columbus monument, where she scans the grounds for her next meal. She has attracted large crowds who want to experience this rarely seen raptor and admire her beauty and elegance. Snowy owls are covered with beautiful white feathers, with some dark markings and bright yellow eyes. Females tend to have more dark markings than males, and they tend to lose these markings as they grow older. They are diurnal in nature, meaning that they hunt during all hours of the day.
While their presence attracts large crowds, we must remain aware that when we attempt to observe them, we are the ones entering their living and hunting space, and therefore should be very respectful of their needs. For example, if they become frightened because of crowds, they may fly into oncoming traffic or nearby obstacles. Our presence may even prevent them from hunting, thus threatening their survival.
Washington, DC, is not alone in welcoming a snowy owl to the area. A snowy has also been spotted in Cambridge, Maryland, along the shorelines of the Choptank River. The Cambridge snowy is a fully-mature adult female. She has delighted residents and visitors for about a month, perching on rooftops and hunting as the need presents itself.
Both of the snowy owls have given us the opportunity to observe that true beauty of nature during their rare, and much appreciated visits to the Chesapeake region.
Each year, millions visit the National Mall and Memorial Parks to recreate, to commemorate presidential legacies, to honor our nation's veterans, to make their voices heard, and to celebrate our nation's commitment to freedom and equality.