The town of Cypress in Orange County, California is, perhaps, the last place one might expect to find a Snowy Owl. These arctic birds are well known for vagrancy and irruptions. Vagrancy refers to individual birds which appear far outside of their normal territory ranges. This Steller’s Sea Eagle, for example, made headlines for travelling well outside of its habitat. An irruption refers to an event during which large amounts of birds are found outside of their normal habitats. Irruptions often occur as a result of weather conditions or food supplies. A historic irruption of snowy owls occurred in the United States in the winter of 2013/2014. This event saw Snowy Owls as far south as Florida.
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Still, for an arctic bird to make its way all the way to Orange County is certainly an unusual event. It is no surprise that this shocking white bird was promptly noticed and has drawn a crowd of curious onlookers and frenzied birders looking to cross an unusual sighting off of their “life list.”
The Snowy Owl was found on the roof of a residence and has attracted much attention from locals and bird enthusiasts. At this time, there are no extant plans to relocate the bird.
Theorists posit that this individual owl may have come to the Golden State via boat from a more wintry region. It is, nevertheless, entirely possible that the raptor found its way to California all on its own. Such vagrancies are uncommon, but do sometimes occur as a result of major storm systems. After a historic season of winter storms, it is anyone’s guess how this denizen of the arctic north made its way to a region known for sandy beaches and sunny skies.
Snowy Owls are currently listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “Red List of Threatened Species.” This is after it was discovered that Snowy Owl populations had plummeted from 200,000 individual birds in 2013 to just 28,000 individuals in 2018. Researchers in 2018 began looking into the connection between Snowy Owl decline and climate change.
No matter what the cause is for this majestic owl’s decline, instances like this unusual vagrancy inspire mixed emotions from avian enthusiasts. The opportunity to see such a bird in Southern California is a once-in-a-lifetime treat. And yet, such events may be interpreted as a cry for help, a dire warning, from a species whose population depends upon delicate northern ecosystems in order to flourish.
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