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Snowy owls appear in some familiar spots in NC – and in some you wouldn’t expect

A photo of one of the snowy owls taken to the Carolina Raptor Center for treatment in December, 2017.
A photo of one of the snowy owls taken to the Carolina Raptor Center for treatment in December, 2017. COURTESY OF RACHEL WOOD

Bird lovers may want to keep their cameras handy for a rare opportunity this winter.

Snowy owl sightings have been reported several times from the Piedmont to the Outer Banks, their first appearances in several years.

One sighting was reported Dec. 16 and three others on Dec. 15 in the area of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Another snowy owl was found in moderately poor condition at Piedmont Triad International Airport near Greensboro and was taken to the Carolina Raptor Center near Charlotte for rehab on Dec. 14.

The center received a report of another snowy owl that was found “severely emaciated” in the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge in Anson County on Dec. 4 – and became the first of its kind to be admitted in the 41-year history of the raptor hospital.

Snowy owls, camouflaged for northern winters, at times can be found in large numbers south of the Canada-U.S. border, according to the National Audubon Society. Migration maps show the rarity of the bird coming this far south, but experts predicted an “irruption” of the owls this year throughout the nation, the raptor center says.

Migration of snowy owls is not well understood, according to the Audubon Society, and can be nomadic based on prey. Appearances like the ones reported in North Carolina are sporadic, the group says.

Before recent sightings, a pair of the Arctic creatures vacationed at Ocracoke during the 2013-14 winter, according to the Ocracoke Observer.

Another snowy owl sighting was reported near Bald Head Island in 2001, according to a Carolina Nature website by Duke University researcher Will Cook.

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