Oregon biologists puzzled by snowy owl sightings

Oregon biologists puzzled by snowy owl sightings
In this Dec 22, 2011 file photo, a snowy owl takes to the air after perching on a chimney in Sandy Point, Wash. An Arctic owl species whose popularity received a boost from the "Harry Potter" movies is making an abundant and deeper push into the United States this winter. (AP Photo/The Bellingham Herald, Andy Bronson, File)

BEND, Ore. (AP) — Wildlife scientists are puzzling over the appearance of the snowy owl in Oregon, a bird rarely seen in the state.

The owls are usually found in Alaska or Canada's tundra, where their white feathers serve as camouflage. But in several places across Oregon, including Burns, Astoria, Lincoln City and Eugene, the Bend Bulletin reports snowy owl sightings.

"That's a significant number of birds that aren't normally found in the state," said Simon Wray, conservation biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Bend.

Snowy owls have been reported around the northern United States in recent months, said Bob Russell, a wetland bird biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Minneapolis.

"They are really pouring in," he said.

An online map of reported bird sightings maintained by the Cornell University Lab of shows snowy owls in New England, the Midwest and the Western U.S.

The snowy owl can weigh about 4 pounds and has a wingspan of up to 5½ feet. Oregon birders still remember the 1980s appearance of a juvenile snowy owl in the southern part of the state's Rogue Valley, one of the more notable "accidental" bird sightings in Oregon.

Biologists speculate the bird might be making more southern appearances because of a lack of food, or perhaps because there are too many young owls in the tundra.

Whatever is causing the phenomenon, it could lead to an increase in Central Oregon owl sightings, Wray said.

Since its arrival in Central Oregon last month, the snowy owl near Burns has drawn birders out to the Harney County town 130 miles east of Bend.

The snowy owl has been seen southeast of town, said Tom Crabtree, a birder from Bend who went out to see and photograph it last month.

"It's been hanging out there," Crabtree said. "It's very cooperative, very photogenic."