For the first time since 1984, a snowy owl has chosen to perch on Lake Pueblo.

"This is one of those once-in-a-generation things, so it's very special to have a rare Arctic snowy owl in Pueblo," said Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Bill Vogrin. "We're thrilled that the owl is there and hope he stays a long time."

The owl was first spotted Monday and mostly has stayed on the tires of a breakwater near the South Marina.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has not determined the gender of the bird, although they have ruled out that it is an adult male because the feathers at the nape of its neck are darker than would be normal for a male.

The bird's appearance is part of a phenomenon called an irruption, which occurs every couple of years when a population boom in northern Canada leads some of the owls usually far south in the winter. The boost in the owl population is triggered by a periodic increase in the population of a small rodent called a lemming. The abundance of food allows snowy owls to raise large clutches of up to 11 eggs.

This year's irruption has brought snowy owls to areas as far south as Missouri and Virginia, according to eBird observations.

A record-setting irruption captivated bird enthusiasts in late 2013 and early 2014.

Vogrin encouraged visitors to spot the owl but asked the public to respect the owl's space.

"As with any wildlife, we're asking people to stay a distance away," he said.

If the owl sticks around, those attending Colorado Parks and Wildlife's 22nd annual Pueblo Eagle Days festival on Feb. 3 and 4 will have the chance to see the owl and other birds of prey with parks officials.

Each day includes a scavenger hunt, a meet-and-greet with some of the birds that live at the raptor center and a chance to see a rehabilitated raptor back into the wild.

All activities are free with a valid $7 day pass, or $70 annual park pass per vehicle. For more information, details of activities and maps, please visit the Eagle Days website at www.puebloeagledays.org.

Liz Forster is a general assignment reporter with a focus on environment and public safety. She is a Colorado College graduate, avid hiker and skier, and sweet potato enthusiast. Liz joined The Gazette in June 2017.

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