Snowy Owl Spotted in New York’s Central Park for First Time in 130 Years


A snowy owl in Rome, Italy on Nov. 15, 2020. Massimo Insabato / Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

A snowy owl was spotted in New York City’s Central Park Wednesday morning for the first time in 130 years, The New York Times reported.

The unusual spotting prompted a tweet from the birder account Manhattan Bird Alert, “A SNOWY OWL, a mega-rarity for Central Park,” it read, The New York Times reported.

Sending crowds of birders and onlookers out to the park’s North Meadow fields, the tweet drew criticism from commenters for attracting unwanted attention to the owl.

Snowy owls, found in the high Arctic tundra, are known to venture south during the winter, often looking for prey, according to the Audubon Society. Although the owls are abundant in North America, generally avoiding the threat of human disturbance, they are at risk for climate change. If the planet continues to warm, their range will decrease, eventually shifting out of the lower 48, the Audubon Society notes.

“The snowy owl, it’s obviously in Central Park for a reason,” Brooke Bateman, the director of climate science at the Audubon Society, told Earther. “They have been finding places in New York City outside of Manhattan for a while, so I think that that’s an indicator that they are finding what they need in these areas. We just have to make sure that we don’t stress them out too much.”

While the snowy owl sent New Yorkers running to see yet another rare bird in Central Park, the NYC Audubon Society took advantage of the opportunity to educate city dwellers on wildlife etiquette.

“Owls are especially prone to disturbance in urban areas, from dogs, joggers, and fans. Please exercise caution, keep your distance, and model best birding behavior in their presence,” it tweeted, linking the American Birding Association guidelines on birding and social distancing.

Central Park’s snowy owl adds to the long list of rare wildlife sightings in cities during the COVID-19 pandemic, joining dolphins in Istanbul’s Bosphorus, a once-busy marine route, wild boars in Haifa’s streets and cougars roaming in Santiago, BBC reported.

While rare wildlife sightings in cities have brought joy to people looking for a break from the turmoil of the past year, National Geographic warns against the “If there’s a silver lining of the pandemic… animals were bouncing back, running free in a humanless world,” trope.

“I think people really want to believe in the power of nature to recover,” Susan Clayton, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the College of Wooster, in Ohio, told National Geographic. “People hope that, no matter what we’ve done, nature is powerful enough to rise above it.”

This narrative has the potential to derail conservation efforts, National Geographic reported.

But commenters on Central Park’s newest celebrity seemed more concerned about whether the owl predicted a longer winter. “This means NYC is in for a cold snap – birds are uncanny weather predictors,” one commenter wrote on NYC Audubon’s tweet.

“It’s a sign of the weather to come! What a beautiful creature!” another commented.

By Thursday morning, the snowy owl had disappeared, The New York Times reported — its departure as mystifying as its arrival.

For David Barrett, the person behind the Manhattan’s Bird Alert tweet, the snowy owl’s appearance meant more than a debatable weather forecast. It was a moment of appreciation to share with his fellow New Yorkers.

“If you want people to care about nature,” he told The New York Times, “you should show them that it’s there and let them appreciate it for themselves.”

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