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Will Elusive Snowy Owls Return To The City?

By Justin Breen | February 10, 2017 5:13am | Updated on February 17, 2017 10:16am

DOWNTOWN — It's likely been about a year since a majestic snowy owl graced Chicago with its presence.

Once ultra-rare in the city, snowy owl sightings have been far more common in the last 10 years, with dozens spotted in Chicago over that time span.

But, according to the bird-tracking tool eBird, none have been seen within city limits since February 2016, when one was seen near O'Hare, and January 2016, when a snowy owl was spotted at Steelworkers Park in South Chicago.

City birders hope they return.

"It would be awesome to have them back," Field Museum ornithologist Josh Engel said. "They are a charismatic species that bring positive attention to birds in Chicago."

Engel said a few snowy owls have been spotted in the Chicago area in 2017 but none within the city.

Snowy owl sightings in the last 10 years via eBird:

In previous years, snowy owls were seen yearly at various city spots, including Northerly Island, Montrose Point, Hyde Park and even near Midway.

The birds usually live in the Arctic, where they feed on lemmings, but when they're in Chicago, they usually dine on mice and rats, but they've also been known to hunt fish, rabbits and other birds.

"They are often easily seen, because unlike other owls, they tend to spend the day in the open rather than hiding in trees," Engel said. "And people do love owls."

Here's a look at photos of snowy owls that made their way to Chicago in past years: