A snowy owl perches itself atop an awning during rush hour in downtown Washington


A rarely seen snowy owl perches itself in a tree at McPherson Square on Wednesday. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

It appeared from seemingly out of nowhere, a great arctic snowy owl on a bitter cold Wednesday in the middle of downtown Washington.

Pedestrians at rush hour stopped in their tracks. Was it some kind of omen?

“What in the world?” one man said. The owl stared back, yellow eyes against perfect white feathers. “What in the world?” its annoyed look said.

Out came the cellphone cameras, with amateur paparazzi lighting up the rarely seen fluffy bird of the Arctic that had perched itself atop a green awning at 15th and K streets NW near McPherson Square Park about 5:30 p.m.

“Oh my God,” cried Kiersten Beigel, 43, of the District. “This is really moving.” The owl, sitting there, appeared unmoved. Beigel was walking along 15th Street when she saw about 20 people staring up. “I said: ‘What’s this crowd [doing]?’ and I looked up.”

From moonlight to spotlight, the D.C. snowy owl pays the Post a visit. (Jacques Ledbetter/The Washington Post)

People have been looking up more than usual to see snowy owls in the United States, from Revere Beach, Mass., to Little Talbot Island State Park near Jacksonville, Fla.

According to an eBird tracker operated by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the birds have been spotted in the Great Lakes region, the Dakotas and Arkansas. They normally live in the treeless tundra of the Arctic.

In this region, there have been sightings at Reagan National Airport, Hains Point and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

But at 1500 K Street, where lobbyists rule the roost? Shane Lieberman thought he’d never see the day. “I think I’ve seen one once, when I was a kid” in Connecticut, said Lieberman, 35, of the District.

The owl, meanwhile, left its awning for a tree in McPherson Square.

Darryl Fears has worked at The Washington Post for more than a decade, mostly as a reporter on the National staff. He currently covers the environment, focusing on the Chesapeake Bay and issues affecting wildlife.
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