A snowy owl has been spotted in Central Park for the first time in more than a century, sending birdwatchers into a frenzy.
Nearly 100 people gathered in the park Wednesday with binoculars and long lens cameras after the arctic owl landed on a baseball field in the early afternoon.
The last time a snowy owl was spotted in the park was way back in 1890, with one birder describing Wednesday’s sighting as a ‘historic occurrence.’
Snowy owls are native to the Arctic tundra, with their speckled black and white feathers allowing them to blend in to the wintry habitat.
But while the birds sometimes fly south of Canada, they usually land along sandy beaches and almost never reach Manhattan.
‘Yesterday’s snow and cold to our north likely encouraged this snowy owl to fly south in search of better hunting conditions,’ the Manhattan Bird Alert account posted on Twitter.
‘These owls like flat lands and beaches, so the Central Park North Meadow, flat and with sand-filled fields, might have appealed.’
Rita McMahon of the Wild Bird Fund agreed that the sandy ballfields likely lured the bird into landing.
She told the New York Daily News that the owl appeared to be a female – but NYC Parks officials have not settled on a name.
Instead, urban rangers employed with the parks service arrived on the scene to ensure that crowds kept a safe distance from the city’s new feathered friend.
‘Snowy owls prefer a lot of personal space and are best viewed through scopes or binoculars,’ the parks service subsequently posted on Twitter.
‘Please keep your distance so everyone can enjoy and share this magic moment.’
Word of the bird quickly spread through the city, with some residents trekking to the park to witness the wintry fowl in all its splendor.
NYU student Yijia Chen told The Gothamist he put off classwork to come and see the owl.
‘I saw it [on social media] and I had to come,’ he stated, before revealing it was one of his ‘bucket list birds’.
While Wednesday’s crowd was well behaved and respected the owl’s space, rangers will be keeping a close eye on the creature if it continues to stay in Central Park.
In Manhattan, rare bird sightings spark a frenzy, with tourists trying to track down the creatures as if on a treasure hunt.
Back in 2018, thousands descended on Central Park each day to spot a rare male mandarin duck floating on a pond.
One local columnist described the crowds as having ‘an apocalyptic circus vibe’, and their presence eventually forced the bird to fly away. It has not been seen since March 2019.
But if the newly-arrived snowy owl is afforded some space it could stay in the city for some time.
Kelley Rosenheim, the director of development at New York City Audubon, predicts that the bird may even be in Central Park until March.
‘If it finds food and isn’t disturbed, the owl could stay through February, and possibly March,’ she told The Gothamist.
‘Be respectful that this owl needs resting time in order to survive,’ she said.