Birdwatchers have been astounded by the sighting of Hedwig-like snowy owls, as popularised by the Harry Potter films, in Spain, miles away from their natural habitat in the Arctic tundra.
The first snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus) was sighted about two weeks ago in the autonomous community of Cantabria in northern Spain, according to reports in local media.
Apparently dehydrated, it was taken to a recovery centre, where it sadly passed away just hours later.
However, to birdwatchers’ delight, another specimen was spotted flying over the parish of Luanco in the neighbouring autonomous community of Asturias in the north-west of the country.
Another specimen was then sighted in Cape Penas, the northernmost point of Asturias, on Saturday, with photographs apparently proving that the two were different birds.
The latter has since been popping up in nearby areas, far from its natural habitat in the Arctic tundra.
Video footage taken by wildlife photographer Daniel Lopez shows the latter specimen, a male, perched atop a rock as it swivels its head from side to side.
Daniel said: ‘Seeing a snowy owl in my local patch, Cape Penas, resting peacefully on the edge of the cliff, with the sea in the background, a dreamy light, and surrounded by good friends. What more can you ask for in life?’
Ornithologists believe the snowy owls may have come to Spain from the Canadian Arctic onboard a ship and then settled among the clifftops of Spain’s northern coast, where there is food – rodents and smaller birds – aplenty.
Innovative testing on the feathers of the deceased specimen, which can determine the area in which the bird has fed, will allow experts to prove or disprove this hypothesis.
According to local media, dozens of experts and hundreds of amateur birdwatchers have flocked to Spain’s northern coast, intrigued by the rare sighting.
According to ornithologist Juan Carlos Vazquez, the birds’ instinct will lead them to move north until they reach a habitat they find more comfortable, as reported in La Vanguardia.
It is not the first time snowy owls have appeared far from their natural climes, with several specimens spotted in southern France in 2014, but it is a rare occurrence.
The snowy owl is well known among Harry Potter fans thanks to Hedwig, an eleventh birthday gift from Rubeus Hagrid to the young wizard.
It is one of the largest owl species, with a verified maximum length of 28 inches and a wingspan reaching six feet. Largely nocturnal, it is the only owl with largely white plumage.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the species as ‘vulnerable’, with causes of death often correlated with human interference, such as shootings or road accidents.