Look up, Potterphiles. You may be able to catch a glimpse of the teenage wizard's favorite pet. Indeed, majestic snowy owls are now flying over the United States in uncharacteristically large numbers. Here, a guide to the owls' unusual migration:
What is a snowy owl?
It's a large white owl that can reach 2 feet in height, with a wingspan of nearly 5 feet — just like Hedwig of Harry Potter fame. Typically, the birds fly south from their Arctic habitat once every four years or so, says Erin Skarda at TIME, generating a few sightings, often in the Bible Belt. But this year's influx is a particularly "massive migration." To date, reports Reuters, about 35 snowy owls have been spotted in Missouri, and 75 in neighboring Kansas.
Why are there more birds than usual?
A plentiful supply of Arctic lemmings, the birds' favorite food, led to a strong breeding season up north, Denver Holt, director of the Owl Research Institute in Charlo, Mont. tells The Associated Press. Now competition for food among the unusual numbers of offspring has sent them flooding into the U.S. to search for everything from voles to rabbits to shore birds.
So this is actually bad news?
In a way, yes. "Many of the birds are suffering," warns Murphy, and some of the owls are just one-third of their normal weight. The birds are also facing "uncommon obstacles" they wouldn't normally encounter in the Arctic, like overhead power lines and fast-moving cars.
When will they go home?
You'll have until at least March to spot the regal birds, when they'll begin the long flight back up to their Arctic home. If you're interested in catching a glimpse, the owls are fairly conspicuous, adds Mike Benbow at Herald Net. "Their large size and coloration make them easy to spot, kind of like a 2-foot-tall snowman." Of course, they do fly 70 miles per hour and are nocturnal, so it's not that easy.