COLUMBUS -- Wildlife officials say snowy owls are showing up in increasing numbers in Ohio, likely moving south from their Arctic tundra homes in search of prey.
Ohio Division of Wildlife naturalist Jim McCormac tells The Columbus Dispatch a few snowy owls are spotted each year in the state, with the number of sightings so far this year at 12 to 15.
"They draw a lot of attention when they do come down," he said.
McCormac said the increase may be linked to population growth fostered by the periodic population increase of the owls' primary food source, lemmings. The owls eat more and lay more eggs, leading to an increase in their numbers and forcing younger birds head south to find food.
In Ohio, most snowy owls settle in near Lake Erie, but they have also made appearances around Columbus and other areas. They prefer open areas, not trees, and don't mind daylight, McCormac said.
"They're used to the land of the midnight sun," he said.
The large creature with striking white plumage has gained popularity among fans of Harry Potter, the boy wizard of novels and film who has a snowy owl pet named Hedwig.
It has also become a hit among Ohio birdwatchers, who were drawn recently to Hardin County, where a snowy owl had made its home. The animal has since been found dead, and assistant biology professor Jacqueline Augustine at Ohio State University's Lima campus said it appears it starved.
Volunteer naturalist Nina Harfmann of Warren County had seen bird last month and watched it for hours as it perched atop a power pole.
"I'd never seen a snowy owl before, and it was a magnificent bird," Harfmann said.
"He was absolutely beautiful."
The Associated Press