Skeptical Snowy Owls

A Snowy Owl roosts at Springfield Mall, explanations run from logical to whimsical.

By Robby Osborne

Photo courtesy of Casey Pittrizzi.


A snowy owl has made its perch atop the JC Penney attached to the ruins of the Springfield Mall.  It’s possible, however unlikely, that the owl’s sudden presence means the construction site in Springfield has taken on some Hogwartian mischief unbeknownst to the “muggle” eye.

A more grounded theory comes from Casey Pittrizzi; a naturalist for the Potomac Regional Park, board member of the Audobon Naturalist Society and the last person to have officially seen this bird on Feb. 10.

Pittrizzi said that it’s not uncommon for a snowy owl to appear a bit further south of its normal migratory range, especially in the wintertime. The Mid-Atlantic is experiencing what is officially known as “an eruption of owls.”

“The reasoning for it has mostly to due with their prey,” Pittrizzi said. “There was a very good year of lemming breeding. Whenever there is a good stock of prey, the Snowy Owl can go from having an average of four eggs up to 12, which causes a lot of the first-year owls to migrate south to find better sources of food.”

These birds are not picky when it comes to food, and their diet can consist of: rodents, birds, and even other owls. This could explain other Snowy Owl sightings in the D.C. area, including one that made its home near the Washington Post building before getting hit by a Metro bus two weeks ago. The bird is now recovering at Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Pittrizzi also explained how the mall, especially an almost abandoned one, would make a prime habitat for this Snowy Owl.

“Snowy Owls nest on the ground far in the north, in big tundras and open meadows.” Springfield Mall’s parking lot must be reminiscent of the empty vastness this bird grew up in, and also explains the Snowy Owl who is living at the Dulles Airport.

Yet in the face of all the facts and logical data explaining this owl’s recent residence, the most dogmatic of Harry Potter purists may still search in vain for their own personal Platform 9 3/4 in the ruins of the food court.