The Snow Owl is known by many names around the world: Snow Owl, Great White Owl, Arctic Owl, Highland Tundra Owl, Scandinavian Nightbird, Ookpik, Ghost Owl, Ermine Owl, Tundra Ghost, or White Terror of the North.
The Snowy Owl is a large, diurnal owl of the typical owl family Strigidae. It has a rounded head, yellow eyes and a black bill. The Snowy Owl is recognized mainly by its white plumage, which is very heavy especially on its feet. Females and youngsters are more heavily marked than adult males, which can even be almost pure white.
The young chicks are uniformly brown with scattered white tips, and become whiter as they grow up.
The Snowy Owl’s natural habitat is the Arctic Tundra or open grasslands and fields. They prefer open areas, and thus rarely venture into forested areas. During southward movement, the Snowy Owls can be seen along lakeshores, marshes, marine coastlines, and they can even venture in cities or towns to roost on buildings.
Its range is spread around all the northern areas of the world, from Canada to northern Europe and Asia. Though, the snowy owl’s breeding grounds are more restrained: it only breeds in the most northern spots of Canada, Greenland, and a narrow strip along Europe and Asia, as you can see on the following map, in the darker blue.
The Snowy Owls feed mainly on lemmings and other small rodents during the breeding season, but, when they run short of food, or in the ptarmigan’s breeding season, the juvenile ptarmigan may turn out a pretty good meal. As the Snowy Owls are opportunistic hunters, prey species may vary considerably, especially during the winter. Their diet may consist of meadow voles, deer mice, muskrats, marmots, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, prairie dogs, rats, moles, ducks, geese, shorebirds, pheasants, grouse, coots, grebes, gulls, song birds, and even some owl species. These owls hunt in the “sit and wait” style.
This impressive owl nests on the ground. The best place for a nest is on top of a mound or boulder, with ready access to hunting areas and with a lack of snow.
Courtship behavior begins in mid winter and may last until March or April. Males try to impress females by flying like a moth, bowing, fluffing feathers, spreading wings and dragging on the ground. They might also hunt and display their prey with the same purpose to impress their possible mates. Breeding occurs in May and clutch size may vary from 5 to 14 eggs, depending on the amount of prey available. When prey is scarce, the Snowy Owls may not breed at all. The eggs hatch in approximately 5 weeks. The chicks hatch asynchronously, but although the largest may even be 10 or 15 times larger than the smallest, there is no evidence of siblicide and little sibling conflict.
The Snowy Owls have few natural enemies. During the breeding season, they may defend their nests from arctic foxes, corvids, gray wolves, dogs, jaegers and avian predators. They are also in competition for food with hawks, eagles, falcons, gulls, owls, foxes, ravens, wolves and ermine.
Status: Locally abundant during good lemming years, rare at some locations during other times.
Original Description: Linnaeus, Carolis. 1758. Systema Naturae ed. 10, p. 92.
Related Post: http://impressivemagazine.com/2012/04/07/interesting-eyes-night-owl/
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