Bird watchers in Florida have a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of a visiting Bubo scandiacus or what is more commonly known as a Snowy Owl. The unusual winter visitor was spotted in Little Talbot Island State Park near Jacksonville. Sightings of this typically northern species have only been confirmed in Florida three times in the past.
North American Snowy Owls migrate in winter months most likely in search of food. Some years they will remain in their summer breeding grounds in the northern arctic, far north of the Arctic circle, while in other years they migrate to southern Canada and the northern half of the contiguous United States. Snowy Owls are considered irruptive, meaning they will appear in large numbers in some winters, but not in others.
The last irruptive year was in 2011 when Snowy Owls were reportedly sighted in 35 states. During irruptive years large numbers of Snowy Owls will appear outside their normal range, occasionally as far south as California, Texas and Florida. A large surge in population due to ample food during the breeding season is believed to be the cause of such irruptions.
About the size of the Great Horned Owl, Snowy Owls are the largest owl by weight of all North American owls. Male owls are barred with dark brown and get whiter with age. Female owls keep some dark marking throughout their life. The owls playing Harry Potter's Hedwig were males because they are the whitest birds. This coloring and their diurnal behavior (active during the day) makes them easy to spot in the flat, open areas where they hunt for small rodents and birds.