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Everything You Wanted to Know About the Snowy Owl

Updated on January 26, 2018
bdegiulio profile image

Bill has always had an interest in nature and in particular birds of prey. Learn about these majestic creatures that grace our skies.

The Snowy Owl in flight
The Snowy Owl in flight | Source

The Snowy Owl is perhaps the most beautiful and graceful of all Birds of Prey. With their stunning white plumage they are easily identifiable, and certainly a highlight to see for anyone who loves birds.

In addition to being found across North America, the Snowy Owl is also prevalent across Scandinavia and the polar regions of Eurasia. These beautiful owls sometimes stay year round in their breeding grounds of the arctic but they frequently migrate to parts of southern Canada, northern areas of the United States, Asia, and Europe.

A young Snowy Owl in Alaska.
A young Snowy Owl in Alaska. | Source

Description

The Snowy Owl is the largest owl to inhabit North America, and one of the largest owls worldwide. As with other Birds of Prey the female is larger than the male, and measures between 20 to 28 inches in length. Their wingspan is impressive, reaching a length of up to five feet, and the average Snowy Owl will weigh in at about five pounds give or take a pound.

Not all Snowy Owls are pure white as the females tend to have more dark markings on them than do the males. Young Snowy Owls resemble the female in color with darker features, and young females in particular will have the darkest barring and streaking. The eyes of the Snowy Owl are large, and they are a brilliant yellow in color that makes for a fascinating facial appearance against the pure white feathers on their face.

Another feature to the Snowy Owl is the small ear tufts that adorn their head although they are usually tucked away and not visible. The tufts actually have nothing to do with the owl’s ears, and there is much uncertainty as to what they are actually used for. The legs and feet of the Snowy Owl are covered in the same fine white feathers that cover their face, and each foot has four sharp long talons for hunting.

The male Snowy Owl.
The male Snowy Owl. | Source

Habits

The Snowy Owl feeds mainly on small rodents such as lemmings, voles, mice, and various other small mammals with the lemming being their favorite food. They will also occasionally hunt for birds if there is a shortage of rodents in the area. Because they spend their summers in the high arctic regions where it is daylight for almost 24 hours a day they are diurnal and will hunt during the day. In winter their preference is to hunt at night like other nocturnal owls. The Snowy Owl has an enormous appetite and can consume between five to ten small rodents every day, and even more if they have owlets.

Interruption - Migration

The Snowy Owl spends most of its time in their breeding grounds on the tundra of the polar arctic. They do periodically migrate south for the winter starting in September, generally when competition for food increases. These migrations are not a yearly happening, and research suggests that it may be tied to the lemming population that can vary from year to year.

The winter of 2011-2012 saw one of the largest Snowy Owl migrations ever into the lower 48 states, and researchers are still trying to understand this mystery. Because these migrations are not a yearly happening they are referred to as “interruptions”.

Snowy Owl in flight.
Snowy Owl in flight. | Source

Breeding

Snowy Owls mate for life, and their breeding season usually begins in May while in the tundra regions near the Arctic Circle. Females will generally lay between three to ten eggs, and the size of the clutch will depend on the availability of food. In times of plenty the clutch size will be large while if food is very scarce the clutch size will tend to be smaller or the pair may not breed at all.

The incubation period is usually about thirty days. and is done solely by the female while the male hunts and provides food. Nests are constructed on the ground although they do prefer a slightly elevated area, which gives them a vantage point to scan their surroundings. After hatching, the owlets will start to leave the nest area after about twenty days, but it will take up to eight weeks before they have mastered the art of flying. The young will continue to rely on their parents throughout the summer, and they will not mature until about one year old.

Mother Snowy Owl with owlet.
Mother Snowy Owl with owlet. | Source

An interesting feature of the Snowy Owl is the fact that they cannot move their eyes so they have to turn their entire head in order to change their field of view. They have fourteen neck vertebrae, and this allows them to swivel their head up to 270 degrees. As with many other Birds of Prey, the Snowy Owl has exceptional eyesight, which comes as no surprise given their enormous bright, yellow eyes.

Notice how this Snowy Owl has his head turned almost completely  behind him.
Notice how this Snowy Owl has his head turned almost completely behind him. | Source

Interesting Facts

  • The Snowy Owl can eat up to 1,600 lemming in a one-year period.
  • Snowy Owls like airports because the openness of the land reminds them of the tundra. Logan Airport in Boston is a popular winter spot for the Snowy Owl, and up to forty of them will congregate and winter there.
  • The Snowy Owl is also referred to as the Great White Owl or the Arctic Owl.
  • Snowy Owls are diurnal meaning they are active during the day and night.
  • The Snowy Owl has excellent hearing in addition to eyesight. This helps them hunt when their prey is underneath snow and out of sight.
  • The Snowy Owl will swallow its small prey whole if possible, and regurgitate the bones as pellets within 24 hours.
  • When the winter food supply in the arctic regions is scarce the Snowy Owl will relocate, and has been found as far south as Texas and California. These are referred to as interruption years.
  • Baby owls are called owlets.
  • Although difficult to count it is estimated that there are approximately 300,000 Snowy Owls worldwide.
  • The Snowy Owl was made famous in the Harry Potter series as Harry's trusted pet owl, Hedwig.


North American range of the Snowy Owl.
North American range of the Snowy Owl. | Source

© 2012 Bill De Giulio

Comments

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    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Greyson and snowy owl lover. Thanks for stopping by. The snowy owl is one of my favorite birds of prey. So unique looking. Glad you enjoyed the article.

    • profile image

      snowy owl lover 

      4 years ago

      This has helped me with my project a lot. Thank you for this amazing article.

    • profile image

      greyson 

      4 years ago

      awesome!

    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Mary. They really are majestic. I think the Snowy is one of the most stunning looking of all owls. How great that one stopped by to visit in Kingston. Many thanks for the read, vote, etc.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      I think everyone is taken by owls, probably because they are night creatures and we don't get to see a lot of them...and then there's this beautiful white Snowy Owl! A truly majestic looking bird. We had one stop for a visit in Kingston, New York a few years back. Needless to say it made front page news!

      Loved reading all the facts and seeing the lovely pictures.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Pamela, Glad you enjoyed the Hub. I found the Snowy Owl to fascinating. They are such a beautiful and majestic owl. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Have a great day.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      6 years ago from Sunny Florida

      This owl is so beautiful. I can understand why they need feathers on their legs and feet since they live in such a cold climate. The baby birds certainly stay with the parents longer than the typical bird also. This is a very interesting hub that I really enjoyed.

    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Deb. Aren't they just beautiful. Certainly one of my favorite birds of prey. Thank you for taking the time to read and share.

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 

      6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      that is the most beautiful OWLS I have ever seen.. what a great hub.

      I will share

      Debbie

    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi SweetbeariesArt. Thank you for the read and comment. Welcome to HubPages, you are off to a great start. Have a great day.

    • SweetbeariesArt profile image

      SweetbeariesArt 

      6 years ago from California

      Wow, such beautiful birds, and nice to learn more about this species.

    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bobbi. Yeah, Florida is a ways out of their range. If you ever come up north in the winter you may see them. We've seen plenty of Osprey and Bald Eagles down there in Florida and they are beautiful also.

      Glad you enjoyed the Hub. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Have a great day. Bill

    • PurvisBobbi44 profile image

      PurvisBobbi44 

      6 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for the link---I really loved this hub and I wish they would fly to Florida---but I know that is dreaming.

      Thanks you for writing about all the wild birds I love.

      Your Hub Friend,

      Bobbi Purvis

    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thank You whonunuwho for the very nice comments, very much appreciated. I will definitely have to check out your work. The Snowy Owl is an amazing creature, would love to see you paintings. Thanks again, have a great day.

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 

      6 years ago from United States

      Beautiful pictures and one of my favorite subjects to paint, as I am a wildlife artist. I love the birds of the wild, including ducks, geese, birds of prey, and song birds. To try an capture the wild and free and those that fly and carry our immense envy with them, is a challenge that I have tried to resolve for quite a few years. You may see some of my efforts in some of my hubs sucg\h as "The Wild and Free" Wild wings so Beautiful and Wild Birds of Autumn. Thanks for the wonderful hub.

    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks Angelo52. Sure must be a lot of lemming up there in the tundra with the appetite that the Snowy Owl has. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

    • Angelo52 profile image

      Angelo52 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      Nice article about this great owl. Glad I'm not a lemming though. Then I'd probably look at the owl as the grim reaper.

    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks Christy. Couldn't forget about Hedwig. Appreciate the comments and vote. This one was a lot of fun to put together. Have a great day.

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I vote up and useful. You even mention harry potter's tie to the owl!

    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thank you aviannovice. Appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. Have a great day.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Very well done and informative.

    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Lesley. I'm really enjoying these Birds of Prey Hubs. They are all magnificent birds and the Snowy Owl is certainly one of the most beautiful. Thank you again for stopping by to read, comment and vote.

    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Jennifer. Thank you for the nice comments. Owls are amazing creatures and the Snowy Owl is just beautiful. Write a Hub on that barn owl? Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thank You Mr Tindle. Great profile picture. Appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. Have a great day

    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Another awesome hub - one of my favourite birds, I really enjoyed reading this interesting and informative article - excellent work thank you and voted up

    • Jennifer Stone profile image

      Jennifer Stone 

      6 years ago from the Riverbank, England

      I love this article! Informative and interesting with lovely pics! Voted up, interesting and awesome! We have a barn owl that lives nearby and I love to watch him hunting at dawn and dusk. You have given me a lot of information I didn't know about snowy owls, thank you! Jen

    • Mr Tindle profile image

      Mr Tindle 

      6 years ago

      bdegiulio,

      Very informative and interesting hub. Great pictures too. I voted up.

    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks again Mr. Happy. I really enjoyed putting this Hub together. This is one amazing owl. And beautiful to boot. That first picture was my favorite also. Appreciate you reading, commenting and sharing.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      6 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Gorgeous photos here. I especially like the first one, with the gliding white owl on the background of just pure white snow ... beautiful! Great choice. What else can this White Wolf say though? lol

      I found the article great too! Very informative, I knew nothing about these owls. I have never seen one either but now that I have a notion of them, perhaps one day I will see one.

      Thank You for putting this piece of writing together. I shall share it. Cheers!

    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Crystal. The Snowy Owl is one amazing creature. Glad you enjoyed the Hub, I had a lot of fun putting it together. Thanks for stopping by and the vote.

    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks CyberShelly. Those big yellow eyes are something, just beautiful. Thanks for reading, commenting and the vote. Have a great day.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      What a magnificent creature. Owls have an aura of wisdom about them, and seem to be very spiritual creatures. I enjoyed this hub. Voted up and awesome.

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 

      6 years ago

      bdegiulio, I love owls with their huge eyes and their hoot in night - so wonderful to hear them when we are out in the bush. The snowy took my breath away, so very beautiful. Voted up and awesome!

    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      @ chef-de-jour. Thanks for reading and commenting. The Snowy is pretty neat as far as owls go. I'll have to read up on the eagle owl, they sound interesting. Maybe a future Hub?

      Thanks again for stopping by and have a great day.

    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      @unkownspy. Thanks for reading and commenting. It really is a beautiful bird. Have a great day.

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 

      6 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Thanks for this introduction and insight into a fantastic owl. The Snowy is something special with that clean white plumage and swivel head, plus feathery feet.

      We have owls close by - the common or garden tawny owl - with the atmospheric hoot in the dark of night. Beautiful sound. I did go looking for the eagle owl in spain a couple of times but no luck. They call him ' el rey de la noche'....king of the night. And he certainly is.

    • unknown spy profile image

      Not Found 

      6 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      I really enjoyed reading your hub about Snowy owls. I'm not into birds but your hub looks so tempting to read. The pictures were amazing too!

    • bdegiulio profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Suzie. Thanks for the nice comments and vote. This past winter was one of the interruption years when many Snowy Owls came down to Winter in this area. They are just a beautiful bird. We are fortunate here to have such a variety of Birds of Prey in the area. Thanks again and have a great day. Bill

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 

      6 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Gorgeous hub on a most precious bird. The Snowy Owl is truly a vision, your photos are amazing Bill, your words so well written it was a very interesting easy to read hub. Congrats on another excellent addition to your series.Voting all the way and sharing buddy!!

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