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Everything You Wanted to Know About the Snowy Owl

I have always had an interest in nature and birds of prey in particular. Join me in learning about these majestic creatures.

The Snowy Owl in flight

The Snowy Owl in flight

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.

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.

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 its 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

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.

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.

Interesting Facts

  • The Snowy Owl can eat up to 1,600 lemmings 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.

© 2012 Bill De Giulio

Comments

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 05, 2014:

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.

snowy owl lover on June 05, 2014:

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

greyson on June 05, 2014:

awesome!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on November 12, 2012:

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.

Mary Craig from New York on November 12, 2012:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 23, 2012:

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.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 23, 2012:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 18, 2012:

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 Langford from Brownsville,TX on August 18, 2012:

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

I will share

Debbie

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 10, 2012:

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

SweetbeariesArt from California on August 09, 2012:

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

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 07, 2012:

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

Barbara Purvis Hunter from Florida on August 07, 2012:

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

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 26, 2012:

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 from United States on June 26, 2012:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 26, 2012:

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 on June 26, 2012:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 26, 2012:

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.

Christy Birmingham from British Columbia, Canada on June 26, 2012:

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

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 26, 2012:

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

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on June 26, 2012:

Very well done and informative.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 25, 2012:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 25, 2012:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 25, 2012:

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

Movie Master from United Kingdom on June 25, 2012:

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 from the Riverbank, England on June 25, 2012:

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 on June 24, 2012:

bdegiulio,

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

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 24, 2012:

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 from Toronto, Canada on June 24, 2012:

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!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 23, 2012:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 23, 2012:

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

Crystal Tatum from Georgia on June 23, 2012:

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.

Shelley Watson on June 23, 2012:

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!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 23, 2012:

@ 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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 23, 2012:

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

Andrew Spacey from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on June 23, 2012:

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.

Life Under Construction from Neverland on June 23, 2012:

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!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 23, 2012:

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

Suzanne Ridgeway from Dublin, Ireland on June 23, 2012:

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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