Forget flying south -- some birds fly to Chicago

January 4, 2012 3:29:39 PM PST
Usually, when people go south for the winter, they head to Florida or Arizona. But not snowy owls. They head to Chicago.

Every few years it happens along Chicago's lakefront at Montrose Harbor, and it's usually near the old Horseshoe Pier. The snowy owls like this area, and the birdwatchers, or birders, show up to catch the show.

But the beautiful white birds aren't here every day.

"Yesterday they were here all day," said snowy owl fan Carl Vizzone. "Or the one was here all day and they've been seeing them for about four weeks out here off and on."

But then, suddenly, our luck changed. On top of a light tower the birders spotted something that turned out to be a female snowy owl. She was probably hungry.

"Snowy owls come down when their food supply is short up in the Arctic, where they are born, where they spend most of their lives," said Joel Greenberg, naturalist, author and birder. "Every year a few birds come down."

They have plenty of Chicago mice, rats, rabbits and ducks to live the high life.

So at Montrose Harbor Wednesday we did get a glimpse of a snowy owl from a distance. At Lincoln Park Zoo we can see them up close and personowl.

At the zoo, we can get eye-to-eye with a swivel-headed female just arrived from a Seattle zoo. She is in Chicago to spend her future with "Stanley," the male snowy owl who doesn't seem too interested. But he is very fortunate to have his new girlfriend.

"Breeding snowy owls in North American zoos has been very difficult over the last few years," said Colleen Lynch, curator of birds at Lincoln Park Zoo. "In fact she's the only owl that hatched in North America in 2011. So we're very lucky to have her here at Lincoln Park Zoo." Stanley doesn't seem too excited about this arranged marriage, but you never know.

"The first day that they met they had a little bit of a tiff where they bounced off of each other to try and say hello. Since then, they've been constant companions," said Lynch.

The zoo is holding a naming contest for the new snowy owl. Just visit the website at

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