top of page

The Snowy Owl in NYC, mostly pre-1900

Updated: Feb 15, 2021

Snowy Owl in Central Park on 27 January 2021 by D Allen

First Time in CP since mid-Dec. 1890 and/or March 1993?

5 February 2021

Bird Notes: We are still publishing this Newsletter, occasionally, through the winter - and full time (weekly) by mid-March. Owl walks again in late February-March. Morning bird walks only on Sundays at 9:30am for now - but always check the Schedule page of this web site for last minute additions!

This issue of our Newsletter (published since 2002) is a compendium of mostly pre-1900 observations of Snowy Owls in our area including NYC. For those of you interested in the most current info on the Snowy Owl in Central Park, there has been one appearing nightly at about 6pm until about 8pm for the last several days (1-15 February 2021). The owl has been hunting ducks at the north end of the Reservoir (circa 93rd street), and often perches on the west (north) pump-house building along the running track. Look also at the nearby Tennis Courts (just nw of the Reservoir) because the owl heads there often to hunt rats. Check also the nearby tallest trees on the SW corner of Conservatory Garden...again hunting rats at night / and very successfully as well). The best place for up to the minute info/sightings/reports is the Manhattan Bird Alert (@BirdCentralPark) run by the amazing David Barrett. It is a Twitter site, but you can also access it from the internet ( Here is some info on the Snowy Owl in Central Park from Thu and Fri evenings, 4-5 February 2021: (4 Feb 2021) and (5 Feb)

Meanwhile, we'd also like to call attention to one L. S. Foster (Lyman Spalding Foster) who made the first report of a Snowy Owl in Central Park in mid-December 1890. He had been researching when and why Snowy Owls come south in great number to the USA in some years - and below, we include some of the information he received at that time. So as you read along, look for snippets from L. S. Foster including his obituary (1904) that is near very end of this Newsletter.


December 5, 1890. The Vice-President in the chair. Six persons present. Mr. L. S. Foster presented a paper upon "The Snowy Owl." It treated of the species from various points of view, giving in detail its history arranged under heads such as its names, its nest, its cry, its weight, its natural food, its migrations, etc. January 9, 1891. The Vice-President in the chair. Eleven persons present. The capture of a Glaucous Gull (Larus glaucus) at Far Rockaway, 1 January 1891, by Messrs. A. H. Howell and L. S. Foster, the third record for New York State, was reported. Mr. Foster stated that the food of the immense flocks of Herring Gulls seen on Long Island in winter seemed to consist mainly of the quahog clam. He [L.S. Foster] also spoke of the unusual abundance of the Snowy Owl (Nyctea nyctea) this winter all along the coast as far south even as Delaware. One was seen in Central Park, New York City, about the middle of December [1890].

Female Jones Beach Long Island on 29 November 2013

Almost forgot! On Wednesday, 27 January 2021 a first-year female Snowy Owl (see Deborah's photo at the top of this Newsletter) was found in Central Park at the North Meadow Ball Fields, and reported to David Barrett at the Manhattan Bird Alert (Twitter). David ran out from his nearby home, and found it...and then all hell broke loose. If you do a Google search (type in Snowy Owl Central Park) you'll find many many articles...We are indeed the media capitol of the world. Anyway, it was the first Snowy Owl in Central Park since March 1993 (that occurrence had no named observer but reported in the NYS Birding Journal, the Kingbird) or 1890...SNOPES has a good itinerary of the history of this owl in Central Park here:

in Pelham Bay Park (Bronx) by Angel Cardenas on 28 February 2009

Bird Walks for February 2021

All Walks @ $10/person

1. Sunday, 7 February at 9:30am. Bird Walk. CANCELLED DUE to SNOW. Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/East Drive $10

2. Sunday, 14 February at 9:30am. Bird Walk. Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/East Drive $10

3. Sunday, 21 February at 9:30am. Bird Walk. Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/East Drive $10

4. Sunday, 21 February at 9:30am. Bird Walk. Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/East Drive $10

Call (718-828-8262) or Email us with questions:

Probable First-Year Female in Pelham Bay Park (Bronx) by Angel Cardenas on 28 Feb 2009

The fine print: Our walks on weekends meet at 7:30/9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approx. 74th street and the East Drive). Please note: the Boathouse is not one of the buildings that surround the nearby Model Boat Pond - people make this mistake all the time! Fridays we meet at Conservatory Garden; Mondays at Strawberry Fields - check the "Meeting Points" page of this web site for exact meeting location.

Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is ( If you are lost and trying to get to the bird walk, call Deborah's cell phone...but remember on weekends there will be 2-3 other people calling who are also lost - please be patient. If in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not the morning of the walk: check the main landing page of this web site as well as the "Schedule" page - if the walk is cancelled, information will be posted there by 6am the day of the walk, and usually by 11pm the night before. If still confused and as a last resort, call us at home - if no one answers it means we left for the bird walk. We end all our Central Park walks (except Fridays) near the Boathouse at about noon; you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $6 total) - though the Boathouse is closed right now and will re-open in April 2021 according to the owners. Walks last about 3 hrs (less if hot or rainy), and you can leave at anytime - we won't be offended. If you need directions/help to your next destination, just ask someone on the walk - we aim to please.

Female Jones Beach Long Island December 2018

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights):

Sunday, 24 January and Sunday 31 January (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9:30am): Please note: the bathrooms at the Boathouse are NOT open. However, we do pass two other sets of bathrooms on the walk. is the slow time of the year for birds. But on all walks we are seeing the Barred Owl and feeding birds by hand. Throw in a dive bombing Red-bellied Woodpecker; Cooper's Hawks catching House Sparrows; the Greater White-fronted Goose - there is a lot to see in two hours especially for February. Mostly you will have fun and go home happy.

Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday, 31 January:

at Boundary Bay, Canada (south of Vancouver), 22 February 2012 by Deborah Allen


Snowy Owls [November 1876] have been unusually abundant this fall about Boston, over two hundred having been brought into town, it is said, within a week. This is a chance for inland collectors, with whom this species is much more uncommon than with us on the coast, to secure a specimen or two of a bird no where very abundant. All along the coast north of New York these birds have been found in unusual numbers; does their great abundance this fall point to the approach of unusually cold weather? ======== THE SNOWY OWLS. Boston, November 18th [1876]. Messrs. Editors: We here, for the last two weeks, have seen such great numbers of the large white owl shot, that it reminds us of the like occurrence about ten years ago. At one taxidermists today, there were 30 fine specimens killed within a radius of 20 miles of Boston, in a few day's past; at anothers, 26 more like individuals. What causes this bird to come so near the city, and even enter the very heart of it, and quietly perch on houses, window sills, etc., in some cases, is a mystery, and causes in much remark? Cau. ===============

SNOWY OWL. Westfield, Mass., March 5 [1891]. There is on exhibition in the show window of Conner's stationery store, a magnificent specimen of the Canadian snowy owl (Nyctea scandiaca), which attracts considerable attention, as it is quite a rare thing to see so fine a specimen of this beautiful bird. The mounting was done by "Prof. Scott," of this place. The owl was shot in Greenville about Christmas time, by John D. Ripley of that place. WORONOCO


Animals Received at Central Park Menagerie Week Ending February 10th [1877]. One blue and yellow macaw, Ara araruana; one snowy owl, Nyctea nivea, presented by Mr. Anthony Butler, Jr. captured on Staten Island; one snowy owl, Nyctea nivea, presented by Mr. M. V. Caffrey, captured on New Jersey; four Wagler's parakeets, Conurus Wagleri, purchased; one yellow fronted amazon, Chrysela ochrecephala, purchased; one red-vented parrot, Pionus menstruus, two wild [Passeneger] pigeons, Ectopistes migratoria, received in exchange; one fox colored sparrow, Passarella iliaca, presented by Rush C. Hawkins, Esq.. N. Y. City; one horned owl, Bubo virginiana, presented by Mr. Patrick O'Connor, N.Y. City. W. A. Conklin, Director.

at Island Beach State Park New Jersey in February 2017

THE Snowy Owl [1890]. In your columns I saw that Mr. Foster wished all notes possible on the southern limit of the snowy owl. On Nov. 20 [1890] one was caught in a trap near Princeton, N. J., a large medium dark female. I shot a male on Dec. 16, 1882, and a bird was taken some three years before. This made three specimens of this owl in my collection, all from this locality. It seems strange that during such a mild winter so many northern birds should migrate so far south. Red Crossbills are common here all this winter and red-breasted nuthatches have been common since the last of September, both of these birds I never saw in this locality until last winter. A.H.P. (Lawrenceville, N. J.).


SNOWY OWL IN NEW YORK [1891]. Red Hook [Brooklyn], N. Y., March 9. About three weeks ago a snowy owl was seen in this neighborhood. It soon disappeared and was supposed to have gone to a climate better suited to its taste. To-day, however, it appeared again, and three gunners started in search of it. One of them, John W. Bain, was fortunate enough to get a shot at the bird. At a distance of 120yds, he made a center shot. Though the rifle was a .38cal., the specimen was not injured. The bird goes to John Wallace, 16 North William street, New York, to be set up. – C.


SNOWY OWLS. [December 1890]. We have been having a regular epidemic of Arctic owls in this portion of the State lately. They have been seen in large numbers everywhere within at least thirty miles. They are wary birds and seem able to see in the day time as well as anybody. However, some twelve or fifteen have been killed in this section, your correspondent getting two. Those killed averaged about 4lbs. in weight, and a spread of wing of about 5ft. Some were nearly all white, with a few gray or blackish markings on head and back. Others have dark color above. Most of them were sold at prices from $1 to $3.50, the whitest birds bringing most money. Dealers say these birds in former years were worth $15 to $20, but this year the market is bearish, owing to their great plenty. They are the toughest birds I ever saw, because of the great mass of feathers upon them, it being nearly impossible to kill them outright.

E.W. L. in PINE POINT, Maine.



Two individuals of this arctic species have been observed in New Jersey recently. One on the 16th, at Morristown, and one on the 20th, at Sea Isle City, Cape May county. This together with the early appearance of the pine grosbeak in New Hampshire, and the multitude of pine siskins now present at Lake George, N. Y., indicate that northern birds will be common this winter south of their usual habitat. To enable me to map out the winter home of the snowy owl (Nyctea nyctea), I should be glad to correspond with observers of this bird. Information to be of value should be exact as to date, and precise as to locality. Where possible send note of contents of stomach.

L. S. FOSTER (New York, 25 Nov. 1889).


My request for information as to the winter zone of the snowy owl (Nyctea nyctea), appearing in your issue of Nov. 28, 1889, has brought me such a considerable volume of information from many willing correspondents that I am encouraged ill attempting to further ascertain all I possibly can concerning this bird. I shall be exceedingly obliged to any one who will send me facts about the snowy owl, telling particularly of early, late, or extreme southern appearances. I suggest the following heads as convenient for grouping the information to be sent, and as outlining the ground I wish to cover:

1. Where and when you have seen the snowy owl.

2. What you know of the observations of others in your vicinity.

3. If these birds occur in about the same numbers annually with you, and if they arrive

and depart on uniform dates.

4. If any local or common names for this bird, also of names in other languages than


5. Of the cry of the snowy owl.

6. Food of this owl; state if information is from examined stomachs.

7. Measurements and weights.

8. Plumage of adults, albinos, or melanistic specimens.

9. If its flesh is ever used as food by man, or by other animals, i.e., its enemies.

10. If at any time they are gregarious.

11. Nest; eggs; plumage of young.

12. Newspaper clippings.

13. Thermometrical and barometrical records bearing on the movements of this species.

14. Of the life of the snowy owl in confinement.


(New York, 26 December 1889).


THE SNOWY OWL. [Jan 1890]

Mr. L. S. Foster’s inquiries concerning the snowy owl (Nyctea nyctea) come very opportunely. The southern flight of these birds during the past two weeks has been remarkable, only exceeded by the great migration of '76-77. At present the snowy owl is to be found in great numbers between the Platte and Loup rivers in Buffalo and Dawson counties, Nebraska. A Kearney taxidermist has received nine specimens within the past week. These will average 24in. in length, with 17m. wings. There have been all shades, from the heavily mottled female to the immaculate male, two specimens being without spot or bar. A marked peculiarity was their emaciated condition, the entire digestive apparatus being in some cases empty. One specimen that I examined contained shreds of gopher hair. The great body of owls arrived about eight days before the recent cold wave, and their advent is a sure precursor of low temperature.


KEARNEY, Nebraska, Jan. 1.


A correspondent on Dec. 26 [1889] makes inquiries about the snowy owl, to some of which I can reply. On the prairies around Chicago, in the winter months of 1840 to 1850 this owl was common; many were shot, and the writer stuffed some specimens, which were in good condition. This owl was supposed to feed on grouse and other game, which in those days was abundant in that region. The plumage generally was white, with minute black spots, though some were pure white, supposed to be the older specimens. The writer had a fine specimen in captivity one winter: it had been slightly wounded, and was kept in a garret, where it soon recovered. It was fed with raw beef, and with birds such as grouse and quail, and became rather tame. A large living red-tailed hawk was turned loose into the garret, and on the first night it was killed and partly eaten by the owl. This owl is less nocturnal in its habits than most owls, being often seen flying about in broad daylight. After keeping the bird for two months or so, it was liberated from the housetop, and made a beeline for the prairies. This owl is probably rare in those parts now on account of the disappearance of the birds on which it subsisted.



NOTE OF THE SNOWY OWL. Edgar, Neb., May 9 [1890]. Some time ago a correspondent asked about the call made by the snowy owl. There are a couple in captivity here, and they seem to be doing well, eat heartily and are apparently healthy. The only noise they have been heard to make is a kind of whistle. H.

Catching a Clapper Rail on 11 Jan 2018 on a Connecticut Salt Marsh

Joel Davidson

Subject: Floyd Bennet Field Snowies [Brooklyn] Date: Monday 30 December 2013 From: deepseagangster

Today at Floyd Bennett Field I observed several individuals getting very close to snowies (less than ten feet) including one who was clearly not a birder or nature photographer chasing a bird around the grasslands with a cell phone. I flagged down a passing US Gov Police Officer and Pointed out the activity. He informed me that you are allowed to get as close to the wildlife as you like and do as you please. I then asked if he could call a ranger. He refused and then asked me why i wanted to report someone who was doing the same thing i was. to which I replied we were observing the wildlife from a distance of 100 yards or more not harassing it. he shook his head at me and drove away. by this time the worst of the three harassers had left so i let it go.

Dennis Hrehowsik ------------------------ Subject: Surprising (?) Snowy Owl Behavior

Date: Saturday 9 January 2021

From: phawk254

Julie and I were on Plum Island on January 8 [2021] and observed a rather heavily barred Snowy Owl sitting roughly 100 yards out in the marsh from the refuge road, where it appeared relatively safe from human harassment. I was photographing it while Julie was admiring it through the scope at 60X when she asked "What is the owl doing?" The owl had stretched out, apparently flat on its belly, looking like a penguin about to slide off the rock into the water (but the wings were held tightly to the body). I sagely suggested perhaps it had seen a vole or mouse approach oblivious to the owl and was stretching slowly to snatch it, similar in behavior to a heron.

Then I caught saw movement out of the top of my field of view. An adult Bald Eagle was rapidly approaching from the south, perhaps sixty feet off the ground. The owl had obviously seen the eagle and had flattened itself into a small "melting pile of snow." The eagle flew directly overhead and past, seemingly oblivious to the feathered snow-pile. The owl craned its neck to follow the eagle, and then stood up, eyes fixed on the now fast disappearing eagle. The owl then assumed the normal relaxed vertical posture it had had less than a minute earlier.

I've seen similar behavior by squirrels attempting to avoid a hawk, but never seen a Snowy react this way before.

LYMAN SPALDING FOSTER, for a time an Active Member of the American Ornithologists' Union, died of pneumonia at St. Luke's Hospital, New York City, January 6, 1904. Mr. Foster was born at Gloucester, Mass., November 25, 1843, but the greater part of his life was spent in New York City, as a stationer and dealer in natural history books, and from 1886 to 1900 he was the authorized agent of the A. O. U. for the sale of its publications and the distribution of 'The Auk.' He took an active interest in ornithology, and from time to time contributed short papers on North American birds to various natural history publications, including 'The Auk,' and the 'Abstract of Proceedings of the Linen Society of New York, of which society he was for some years treasurer. His principal contribution to ornithological literature is a minutely detailed bibliography of the ornithological writings of the late George N. Lawrence, published in 1892, forming No. IV of the series of 'Bibliographies of American Naturalists,' issued by the U.S. National Museum.

Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

Follow our Bird Sightings on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC

Liberty State Park (NJ) on 2 January 2018 by Deborah Allen

1 Comment

Sandra Woosley
Sandra Woosley
Feb 06, 2021

Wonderfully fascinating and informative read, with stunning pictures as a bonus. Thank you.

bottom of page