SNOWY OWL (Bubo scandiacus) – (See images below)
DESCRIPTION: The adult male is white, while the female has brown bars, which are more developed in the juveniles. The head is round with no ear tufts. The hooked bill is black and covered with feathers. The eyes are large and yellow. The legs and feet are also covered with feathers, only showing the talons. The snowy owl, at 6 lb (2.7 kg) for the adults, is the heaviest among owls, and it has a wingspan of almost 60 inches (1.5 meter).
NAME: The English name of this owl stems from is plumage color, perhaps also its Arctic origin. The name ‘Owl’ is an onomatopoeia for the bird’s call and comes from Cockney. The Latin genus name ‘Bubo’ is from Greek and refers to a ‘great horned owl’, although the snowy owl does not have ear tufts. And the Latin species name ‘scandiacus’ stems from Scandinavia, which is part of its breeding range.
HABITAT: In the summer, Arctic tundra. During migration, open areas such as fields or dunes.
DIET: Mainly lemmings in the summer, and other rodents when migrating.
NESTING: The nest is a scrape on the ground in a location that allows good visibility for hunting. Between two and ten white eggs are laid, which are incubated by the female. She also feeds the young with food brought by the male.
DISTRIBUTION: This owl breeds in the Arctic around the globe. Its patterns of migration are highly correlated with food availability. Some vagrants have even been observed on Hawaii. (See note below on bird vagrancy.)
CONSERVATION: The snowy owl is listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN. Threats include collisions with vehicles and aircraft, entanglement in fishing lines and starvation for lack of prey in migration areas.
NOTES: The only owl with a predominantly white plumage. Snowy owls are active both during the day and at night. They have excellent vision and hearing. They swallow their prey whole and regurgitate the undigested parts (such as bones) in pellets.
The snowy owl is the provincial bird of Quebec.
Photos/videos below: The birds below that were seen on the pillars of the old Hillsborough bridge stayed there for a few days. Snowy owls hunt by sitting in a strategic spot and waiting for the opportunity. The adult male was also in a spot that protected it from harassment by American crows. The other bird, a female or juvenile, had just escaped from a mob of crows and landed on a pillar in the open, soon followed by one of the crows.
Snowy owls are at risk of drowning when harassed by crows above water. The crows will push them towards the water, and if they touch it, their feathers get wet and they can’t fly out.
Vagrancy: In biology this means an animal going way outside its normal range. For birds, this can happen when there are storms and they get blown off course. On other times, the bird simply wanders in a different direction than usual. Here’s an article about vagrancy in birds.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Gyrfalcon
The same adult male as above is seen in this video:
And the video below shows the interaction between the snowy owl and the American crow:
Here’s another video of the same snowy owl facing winds (note how easily the owl can turn its head):