Snowy Owl in SoCal: Travelers Flock to See ‘Snowy’

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Snowy owl on the tree

NEWS - It’s quite a sight to see a snowy owl in a Southern Californian neighborhood. This rarity causes birders and curious to also travel outside of their usual ranges to gaze upon the bird’s majesty while it silently flies and perches atop nearby homes.

Snowy Owl SoCal Sighting: A Rare Occurrence

Rare snowy owl on the city

The snowy owl greeted residents and guests of Cypress, California, a city that’s approximately 25 miles south of Los Angeles when it first arrived at the location in mid-December last year.

"Snowy owls migrate every spring and fall, occasionally wandering far outside their normal winter ranges," explains retired forester, Roger Hayes. We've consulted with Hayes to gain a better understanding of these owls' movements.

In the case of this sighting, Hayes informed us that it's the only snowy owl that has been spotted in this vicinity within the past 10 years. Between December 27 and January 16 over 700 birders recorded sightings of the owl on eBird.

Since arriving, the bird seems to like its temporary home. People in Cypress usually find the owl perched on a house, a short tree, or gliding through the sky as the bird spreads its wings to fly from perch to perch. Onlookers nicknamed the owl “Snowy.”

@patrickc_la Such a rare sighting for us in Southern California! My first time filming a Snowy Owl. #snowyowl #southerncalifornia #cypress #owl #bird ♬ Experience (Slowed) - noel.smt

Wildlife technician and volunteer coordinator Jaret Davey said the following about the snowy owl in a CNN interview:

“The southern limit of their winter range is in the northern United States. So it’s not uncommon for them to be in Washington or Minnesota or Maine in the winter. But to be this far south is really exceptional.”

Davey also mentioned that snowy owls are, at most, common in Canada's northernmost areas.

The Snowy Owl’s Natural Habitat

Snowy owls nest on open tundra, not far from the Arctic Circle, and spend winters in regions of Canada and the northern tier states of the USA. But on average, every four years or so, they irrupt southward.

Hayes further explains the uniqueness of a far south sighting like what is happening in SoCal:

"This shift in a migratory pattern usually coincides with drops in lemming populations. Such irruptions bring snowy owls farther south than their normal winter ranges in search of prey. When one is spotted well outside its normal range, word spreads quickly, and birders and naturalists flock—no pun intended—to see them."

Immature snowy owl standing among corn stubble in a corn field, winter, located in Southern Illinois
Photographed by retired forester/avid birder, Roger Hayes.

Snowy, The Social Media Sensation!

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Since the dawn of Snowy’s appearance in the South Californian city, the bird has gained social media fame across different platforms.

@evessketchbook #cypressowl #california #snowyowl ♬ original sound - Eve Bradford

People continue to travel from different cities and towns across the United States to see this snowy sensation. Those who can’t travel to Cypress to see Snowy expressed their adornment, fascination, and interest on social media.

One TikTok user commented that the bird is one of the most beautiful sights to see. Another TikTok comment expressed his captivation through a joke, saying that the owl "went on vacation."

Snowy’s Temporary Home

Rare snowy owl perched on a roof

Snowy’s temporary home is on top of a Cypress house. Crowds come and wait outside the property to take photos and videos of this far-traveled snowy owl.

If Snowy is not on the roof of that Cypress house, onlookers can find the bird hunting around the city. The bird's diet typically consists of flying squirrels and wood rats. However, this snowy owl might also dine on bats and other small owls.

Capturing Snowy In Photos & Videos

Group of people taking photo of events using mobile phone

Typically, it’s okay to use a smartphone camera’s automatic settings. But if you can adjust the settings on your camera manually, Melissa Groo, writer, conservationist, and wildlife photographer, shares in Outdoor Photographer the preferred camera settings for capturing owls:

  • Push the camera’s ISO as high as possible without introducing significant noise into the photo or video.
  • A shutter speed of 1/1600 second is a good starting point to prepare if the spotted owl flies or moves a lot.
  • Increase the aperture’s size to allow the footage to focus on the owl.
  • Prepare to move around to find the best composition for your image.

Also, don’t enter the property without the approval of the landowner. Entering the premises without the property owner’s authorization can result in a trespassing charge.

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