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A Talk on the Wild Side.

8 Fascinating Facts About Snowy Owls

It's that time of year again, when birders and wildlife enthusiasts hope to catch a magical glimpse of a snowy owl. Historically the birds travel southward (well outside their normal range) every four years or so. This is called an irruption. But, for many reasons, not all understood, snowies have been "irrupting" more often, and some predict another banner year for Southern sightings. We figured people might start talking about snowies as sightings increase, and wanted to equip you with some interesting facts to share. 

  1. Bristles on their beaks help them sense nearby objects. The beak (nearly covered by facial feathers) is hooked and used for gripping prey and tearing flesh.

    Snowy Owl BeakThis photo, “Snowy Owl Detail 2” is copyright (c) 2015 Mark Kent and made available under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

  2. Needing insulation from Arctic temperatures, snowy owls have a lot of feathers. This makes them one of the heaviest owl species in North America.

    Snowy Owl FeathersThis photo, “Do I need a haircut” is copyright (c) 2015 Mike Norkum and made available under a CC BY-ND 2.0 license.

  3. Their feet are covered with feathers, like fluffy slippers. This provides ample insulation for the cold Arctic climate.

    Snowy Owl FeetThis photo, “Arctic Owl in Fuzzy Slippers” is copyright (c) 2007 Danny Barron and made available under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

  4. They swallow small prey whole. Snowy owls will eat a variety of food including lemmings, Arctic hares, mice, ducks and seabirds.

    Snowy Owl With PreyThis photo, “Snowy Owl 02-03-14” is copyright (c) 2014 nebirdsplus and made available under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

  5. Females remain with the young, males bring the food and then females feed it to the owlets.

    Snowy Owl Female and OwletThis photo, “Snowy Owl” is copyright (c) 2006 Tony Hisgett and made available under a CC BY 2.0 license.

  6. Their wingspan is 4-5 feet on average. These powerful wings help them silently sneak up on or accelerate after prey.

    Snowy Owl FlightThis photo, “3” is copyright (c) 2010 Pat Gaines and made available under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

  7. Male snowy owls are almost completely white, while females are white with dark bars on her otherwise white plumage.

    Male Snowy OwlPhoto courtesy of Alaska Peninsula/Becharof National Wildlife Refuges.

  8. The Arctic summer forces snowy owls to hunt by daylight. Unlike most owls that are nocturnal, snowy owls are diurnal.

    Snowy Owl in FlightThis photo, “Forecast...Snowy” is copyright (c) 2010 Pat Gaines and made available under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

What to do if you see a snowy owl:

  • Keep a safe distance to observe quietly.
  • Do not play bird calls from your phone or other device.
  • Don't feed the owls
  • Avoid flashes when taking photos.
  • Keep noises to a minimum. 
  • If you find an injured owl: contact your state wildlife agency or local rehabilitator.
  • If you find a dead owl: contact your state wildlife agency.

Snowy owls on refuges across the country:

Arctic National Wildlife Refgue in Alaska

Snowy Owl at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR

Snowy owl at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, USFWS.

Snowy Owl at Siletz Bay NWR

Snowy owl at Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by Roy W. Lowe, USFWS.

Snowy Owl at Cypress Creek NWR

Snowy owl at Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois by John Schwegman.

Snowy Owl at Hamden Slough NWRSnowy owl at Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota by Lee Kensinger.

Snowy Owl at Benton Lake NWR

Snowy owl at Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Montana, USFWS.

I love the puctures and interesting statistics that you give on various birds or any wild life. It is very interesting and gives the people an understanding and knowledge to the people what to do and not to do. So we can enjoy these beautiful owls and other posts w/o harming or interfering in their lives!
I thank you for such interesting and beautiful wild life ??
# Posted By Beth Sterling | 11/23/15 11:55 AM

Thanks very much for educating us on the Snowy Owl. As a child, I learned of my dad's fascination with owls - the Snowy Owl was his favourite. We had books, sketches and ceramic, leather and metal owls throughout our den. Thanks for sharing.
# Posted By Stephanie | 11/24/15 10:10 AM

I would love to spot one of these birds. They are beautiful and majestic. Thank you for giving us some facts!
# Posted By Kat Lentz | 11/24/15 4:55 PM

I will never forget coming upon a snowy owl in my car at midnight in the middle of a road on a carcass of something in the mountainous North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I see they are listed as not living that far south, but it was a pure white, huge snowy owl. Awesome animal. Mystical. Will never forget it and it was 41 years ago!
# Posted By Jerry OBrien | 12/5/15 7:51 PM

I was driving through a valley late one night upcountry on Maui and a white owl ('Pueo') swooped down and flew through the dark valley w/ the full moon light shimmering on its large majestic wings. It was special.
# Posted By mu | 12/7/15 10:00 PM

Do these beautiful owls get as far south as Alabama?? I am hoping they do;-)
# Posted By Carolyn Brownell | 1/4/16 8:44 AM

Both my son and I saw a very large bird not seen before by either of us. This posting leads us to believe, perhaps, that it was a snowy owl. It's image flying above appeared atypical if what we would expect of an owl, as your photos showed. In the Willamette Natnl Forest/Oakridge area.
# Posted By Rusty O'Regan | 1/30/16 3:05 PM
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