Why are so many snowy owls showing up in places so far south from the Arctic?

Image: Norman Smith releasing a snowy owl in Duxbury, Mass., that had recently been captured at Logan airport in Boston. Photographed by Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times.

John Schwartz at the New York Times has a wonderful story up about a strange trend involving snowy owls: They seem to be showing up a whole lot in places very far from their normal habitat within the Arctic Circle. Places like Washington, DC; Boston; Virginia, and the like. John:

"This year's been bizarre," said Dan Haas, a birder in Maryland. "The numbers have been unprecedented. Historic."

No one is sure why so many snowies are showing up in so many places — whether it can be attributed to more food in their Arctic habitats than usual, or climate change at the top of the world. "Think about the canary in the coal mine," said Henry Tepper, the president of Mass Audubon, "you think about the snowy owl in the Arctic."

Go read the whole piece. Great photos, too.