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Rare owl rescued in Northern Virginia; snowy owl seen in D.C.

Animal control officers rescued this rare owl, called a northern saw-whet, in the Oakton, Va., area. (Fairfax County Police)
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A previous version of this article stated that Northern saw-whet owls were the smallest owl species. The northern saw-whet is the smallest owl species in the D.C. region and one of the smallest in North America. This article has been corrected.

Animal protection officers rescued a rare owl in Northern Virginia, and experts said a snowy owl was seen in Washington.

In a social media post on Tuesday, the Fairfax County Police Department said its animal protection officers rescued a northern saw-whet owl on Nov. 17 in the Oakton area. The owl had flown into a home that was being built. Two officers caught the owl, checked it to make sure it wasn’t hurt and let it go.

Northern saw-whet owls are the smallest owls in the D.C. region and are one of the smallest owl species in North America, according to Tom Blackburn, president of the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia.

In their tweet about the owl, Fairfax County officials said “in this area, the northern saw-whet is our smallest owl species which is rarely seen.”

Typically, the owls migrate through the area every spring and fall, experts said, to nesting grounds in forest areas in the northern parts of the United States and Canada.

In D.C., a snowy owl was spotted last weekend just north of the McMillan reservoir near MedStar Washington Hospital Center, according to the city’s biologist, Dan Rauch. Snowy owls don’t normally inhabit the D.C. area.

Two snowy owls have taken up residence near the Mall

Rauch said the last time there was an “irruption” — a temporary influx of a species in an area where it doesn’t normally live — of snowy owls was in 2014, when at least four were reported in the Washington region. And in 2018, two snowy owls were seen on the National Mall at an Agriculture Department building.

Experts said snowy owl irruptions usually happen every four to five years, when the birds tend to migrate farther south than normal after a jump in population.