Snowy Owl

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Breed in northern Alaska and northernmost Canada. Winters south throughout Canada into northernmost United States, and regularly further south. (Note: A snowy owl spent some time around the Saturn/GM Plant in Spring Hill, TN during a recent winter). Also occasional into Eurasia.

Open country, tundra, dunes, fields, marshes, plains, and airports in winter.


A big round-headed owl. Color ranges from pure white to white with dark spotting or barring. Juveniles are heavily spotted.

Length is 24.8 to 28.74 inches

Ranges from pure white to white with dark spots or bars.

Sexual dimorphism:
Male: Smaller than female. Female: Larger than male and more heavily spotted.

Distinguishing characteristics: Snowy owls have yellow eyes. Their feet and legs are covered with white feathers which protect them from the cold. Very large and white. Unlike most owls they are largely diurnal.

Dietary Classification: Carnivorous
Diet in Zoo: White mice or chicks
Diet in Wild: Lemmings, rabbits, mice and other mammals, fish, and birds.

Breeding season/period: In late April or early May snowy owls arrive at their breeding grounds. They usually breed between May and September.

Breeding habits: Elaborate courtship displays. The male performs an aerial display frequently carrying a lemming in his bill or claw. He descends to the ground where he then performs a ground display. With his back toward the female he stands erect then leans forward with his head lowered and his tail partly fanned until he is nearly lying on the ground. Sometimes Snowy owl pairs have been observed passing a lemming from male to female in flight. Pairs are monogamous, but there is no evidence that pair bonds last beyond one breeding season.

Gestation/incubation: Clutch size is 3 to 11 white eggs depending upon prey availability. The female incubates the eggs beginning with the first egg laid. The eggs hatch asynchronously after 32 to 34 days of incubation. The eggs hatch approximately every other day.

Offspring: Chicks are covered with snowy white down. The male brings food, which the female dissects into smaller pieces for the chicks. Chicks begin to leave the nest before they can fly about 14 to 26 days after hatching.

Method of Temperature Regulation: Endothermic

Activity period: Snowy owls are active during the day (diurnal).

Longevity: The oldest know snowy owl lived at least 28 years in captivity. The oldest know wild snowy owl lived at least 9 years and 5 months.


General: Snowy owls are generally solitary and territorial.

Unique Behaviors: Males defend their breeding grounds using vocalizations and threat postures. Females establish territories during winter, which they defend until spring when they fly north. Snowy owls are migratory, but their migration is more related to prey availability than severity of the season. Snowy owls are rarely seen in trees. They prefer to sit on the ground, on rooftops, or on other exposed resting places.

Predators: Humans are the main predator of this owl. They are killed for food, trophies, and to protect game animals. Other predators include foxes, wolves, jaegers and other avian predators.

Conservation Status: Least concern. It is not considered endangered or threatened in the United States. It is protected under the U. S. Migratory Bird Act and CITES, Appendix II.