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.
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.
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.