Yes, 2020 was terrible for most things, but it was a banner year for the order Strigiformes in New York City. And now 2021 is already outclassing it: A snowy owl was spotted today in Central Park for the first time since 1890.
Normally Arctic residents, some of the stark-white owls, which can have a wingspan of up to five feet, move farther south during the winter, supplementing their usual diet of lemmings with mice and other rodents, which we have in abundance. New York State is at the southern end of the species’s winter range. They’re a relatively common sight upstate and even in wilder stretches of southern New York, like the dunes at Jones Beach and even Randalls and Liberty islands; a few years ago one showed up in a courtyard of the city jail on Rikers Island. But today’s appearance in the park is an extreme rarity.
Unlike the tiny saw-whet, drab-colored barred, or even uniquely tufted the long-ear owl, a snowy owl is far easier to spot — especially when there’s no snow on the ground. The bird that’s in the park today was spotted near the North Meadow, hanging around the ballfields with an American crow. The city’s growing birding community have dropped everything and rushed to the park; Urban Park Rangers are on the scene to help control crowds and keep people at a distance.