The Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

There are many names for this wonderful owl of the Arctic.  Sometimes they’re called the Arctic Owl, the Great White Owl or Harfang.  One of the largest and heaviest of the North American owls, the adult Snowy male is almost pure white.  Juveniles have beautiful dark scalloping on their feathers that lightens but never disappears on mature females and they have heavily feathered legs.

In summer and in breeding season the Snowy owl is a bird of the Arctic Circle and open tundra, preying on the abundant supply of lemmings. In winter these stunningly beautiful owls follow other prey, and in North America they can come south as far as Wisconsin, Illinois and Washington state in search of food.  On rare occasions they’ve even been seen in Georgia and Texas!

Their southward migration is irruptive–some winters hundreds of Snowy Owls can be seen in the southern reaches of its range, delighting birdwatchers,  while in other years only a few arrive.  One of the reasons for this may be the population of lemmings. When the lemming population drops, the owls seek other foods including Arctic and Snow hares, rats, squirrels, moles, fish and birds such as ptarmigan and waterfowl–all of which can lead them to the southern most portions of their range.  They’ll also follow trap lines and prey on caught mammals.

The Snowy Owl has few predators, among them other owls and Golden Eagles.  However, nesting birds attract more attention.  While nesting both sexes will defend their nest of 5 – 14 eggs or offspring against Arctic foxes, wolves, and other predators by diving at the predator or exhibiting distraction behaviors.

So, keep watch, because the Snowy Owl is an active bird that travels great distances.  Someday you might chance to see one in your state.

Listen to the Snowy Owl!

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