WEST ALTON, Mo. – A rare sighting of a snowy owl has taken place at The Audubon Center at Riverlands in West Alton.

The first sighting of a male bird occurred around Nov. 9. Snowy owls are typically found in northern areas of the United States and all the way up into Canada. Their population has greatly increased this year, so a few have ventured further south in search of food.

“If they're coming down south, they're just really like all birds looking for food,” said Audubon Center Director Ken Buchholz. “They are driven by the fact that their population up north has exploded so there is more competition for food.”

The Riverlands Bird Sanctuary is an area of 3,700 acres near the Clark bridge in Alton. It includes trails and river overlooks. A wide variety of birds can be observed year-round. Riverlands has one of the largest wintering populations of Trumpeter Swans in the interior of the US. They are expected to be here through early February.

A female snowy owl has been sighted over 50 times throughout the sanctuary. They have not observed one in this area in over five years. Snowy owls can be observed throughout the day and tend to stay low to the ground so they are easy to see and your chance of seeing this one is good. However, you better hurry said Buchholz, because it may not be here for much longer.

“Owls in general provoke a sense of wonderment and so when people hear about owls, especially a snowy, it provokes a lot of excitement,” said Buchholz.

The center is opened every day of the week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the grounds are open from sunrise to sunset. There is no cost. The overwintering Bald Eagles are expected to arrive in early January and a few have already arrived.

The annual Eagle Fest event will take place on Jan. 6 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Audubon Center at Riverlands at 201 Riverlands Way and at the Alton Visitor Center, 200 Piasa Street.

It is free and open to the public.

The Audubon Center at Riverlands is a project of The National Audubon Society. They protect birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation.

Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive.

Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. For more information about the group and to get specific information on sightings of the snowy owl, visit their Facebook page.