Snowy Owl

Bubo scandiacus

Species Information

You can’t miss the white, distinctive plumage of the  Hedwig-looking owl at Chew Valley! 

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Snowy owls spend the warmer seasons in the northernmost regions of North America and Eurasia. They sometimes migrate south in winter, but still remain northerly in Canada and northern Eurasia. They generally inhabit the Artic tundra, grasslands, near water sources, and sometimes in urban areas.

Snowy owls are one of the largest owl species. They have an unmistakable white plumage which helps them to keep camouflage amongst artic habitats. A female can be identified by their dark barring plumage across their body, whereas males are fully white.

Snowy owls are patient hunters. They perch and wait to identify prey, using their heightened eyesight and hearing, before flying off in pursuit. A snowy owl primarily feeds on lemmings, a small rodent. In fact, a single snowy owl can eat more than 1600 lemmings a year, which equates to 3 – 5 a day. However, they are not fussy eaters, and will also hunt other rodents, birds, rabbits, and fish!

About 10 years.

Snowy owls are solitary or found in breeding pairs. They are generally silent, unless males are defending their territory (especially during the breeding season), where they will bellow out the classic owl ‘hoo’ vocalisation. Unlike most owl species, they are not strictly nocturnal. They are also sometimes diurnal depending on the prey availability.

Snowy owls are serially monogamous birds, with some pairs mating for life but others only for a single season and changing mates the next year. To attract a female, males will display two courtship displays. Firstly, an aerial display occurs where the males swoops in front of the female before the ground display. The second display involves head bobbing, wing fluttering, and sometimes the male will present the female with some food. The female may lay up to 11 eggs, laying one egg every other day.

Vulnerable; climate change is posing a large threat to snowy owls as decreasing snow cover reduces the availability and distribution of their prey. Illegal persecution and hunting is also a significant threat.

Snowy owls are heavily feathered on their feet, resembling fluffy flippers!