Snowy Owl

Bird of the Month: Snowy Owl

By Hugh Jennings

PC: Mick Thompson (Snowy Owl)

PC: Mick Thompson (Snowy Owl)

Scientific Name: Nyctea Scandiaca

Length 20-23 in

AOU Band code SNOW

This large white owl is 20-23 inches (the size of a Great Horned Owl) and is merely a winter visitor here.  Its four letter code is SNOW.  It has a rounded head and yellow eyes.  Dark bars and spots are heavier on females, heaviest on young birds, while old males may be pure white.  It preys chiefly on lemmings, other rodent and hares.  Its flight is firm and protracted, smooth and noiseless.  It passes over seizing its pretty by “falling” on it and devouring it on the spot.  The SNOW is an owl of the open tundra, nests on open ground in far northern Alaska and Canada, and hunts both day and night.  They perch conspicuously on the ground or on low stumps, fence posts and buildings.  They retreat from the northernmost part of their range in winter and at least a few are seen in northern U.S.  This year there has been the largest irruption of Snowy Owls in Washington State since the winter of 1973-74.  

John James Audubon sighted a Snowy Owl laying low near the ground next to a pothole pond in Ohio with his head laid down, for some time; “One might have supposed the bird sound asleep…that instant the Owl thrust out the foot next to the water, and with the quickness of lightning, seized it…” (a fish” and threw it clear of the water and devoured it.  It was this event that proved that fish can be dietary supplement also for the Snowy Owl.