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The Fauna of D.C.

Feb 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 22 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus), as its name would suggest, is a longtime denizen of the frozen north, customarily ranging in the polar regions, upper Canada, Alaska, and northern Eurasia. In recent years, however, it has been migrating southward and, during the past few decades, has been sighted in places like Texas, Tennessee, and Florida. In the midst of this snowy, and decidedly frigid, winter, the Snowy Owl’s progress makes a certain sense.

courtesy of city wildlife, inc.

courtesy of city wildlife, inc.

So it was no great shock, although a pleasant spectacle, when a Snowy Owl turned up in Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago. Perched on an office-building ledge a few blocks east of The Weekly Standard’s offices, it attracted the attention of birders, civil servants, global-warming skeptics, fans of nature, and, of course, the press. Why had Bubo scandiacus chosen the nation’s capital? Are they interested in politics as well as small rodents? (Perhaps the two categories overlap?) In a city where things tend to grow rather than shrink, might the local population of Snowy Owls expand?

Probably not. For late one evening, at the beginning of this month, while Snowy Owl was foraging in McPherson Square—local habitat of the late, unlamented Occupy movement—it was struck by a city bus, then an SUV, and knocked silly. The Metropolitan Police, to their credit, swung into action: They spent the better part of two hours tracking their prey, and then finally made an arrest, delivering a dazed Bubo scandiacus to the National Zoo for treatment.

The Scrapbook is pleased to report that the owl, since identified as a she, appears to be recovering from her head injury and fractured toe. She was found to be anemic, and somewhat underweight, which might be explained by the fact that the industrial-sized rats she was hunting in McPherson Square are usually laced with rat poison. Such is life in the Big City. For now, however, she is resting comfortably in a clinic that specializes in wild animals, devouring white mice in a temperature-controlled room, reportedly growing increasingly “feisty.”

The obvious question, of course, is what’s next? Assuming that the Snowy Owl recovers fully, the ideal solution would be to find a good environment for release into the wild. Preferably with a mate. But the chances of finding a male Bubo scandiacus in Washington are probably slim, and it is possible that release into the wild would be a sentence of death. 

The Scrapbook is reminded that Smokey Bear, the famous only-you-can-prevent-forest-fires character, was nicely personified by an injured bear cub rescued from a 1950 forest fire in New Mexico. Until his death in 1976, Smokey spent a pleasant life at the National Zoo, delighting local schoolchildren and becoming one of America’s more famous and successful mascots. Any suggestions for a name for Snowy Owl?

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