Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca)
Snowy Owl Nyctea scandiaca
Sound (92 KB)
23 inches (58 cm)
• Common to Uncommon
• White overall with some dark barring and spots
• Immature females darkest, adult males lightest in color
• Yellow eyes
• Large, diurnal, predatory bird
• Large, rounded head
• Yellow eyes
• Entirely white plumage with scattered dark spots
• Immatures are boldly barred with black
• Sexes similar
• The Snowy Owl is quite distinctive.
Tundra, open grasslands. When lemmings are scarce in the Arctic, Snowy Owls may stage an "invasion" and travel south to spend the winter in the northern United States. During invasion years they can often be seen perching during the day on posts and utility poles. Prefer open farmlands, marshes, meadows, seacoast, lakes, airports. Primarily nocturnal.
NESTING & FEEDING:
BREEDING: Tundra, especially among mounds, hillocks, or rocks. 1 brood. Mating system is monogamous.
DISPLAYS: Male performs jerky, undulating courtship flight ending in near vertical landing. On ground, with wings spread, male dances stiffly while holding dead lemming.
NEST: On hummock, especially on bare-topped gravel bank. Unlined or minimally lined with moss, lichen, and grass plucked from near rim. Female builds nest.
EGGS: 3-4 White eggs. 2.2" (56 mm). More elongate than those of most owls.
CHICK DEVELOPMENT: Female incubates. Incubation takes 32-34 days. Development is semialtricial (immobile, downy, eyes closed, fed). Young leave the nest after 16 days. Both sexes tend young.
DIET: Lemmings, other rodents; if scarce, increases variety of prey, even taking marine invertebrates.
CONSERVATION: Winters within North America.
NOTES: Breeding and clutch size closely track lemming abundance; forgo breeding when lemmings scarce. Male feeds incubating female. Adults perform distraction display. Young hatch asynchronously, the first nearly fledged by hatching of the last; brooded almost continuously by female for 3 weeks, fly at 51to 57 days. Families remain together at least into autumn. Rarely perch in trees. In winter males nomadic; females territorial, maintaining area with combination of vocal and visual displays. Geese and eiders nest near owl nests for protection from Arctic fox.
Nyctea scandiaca SNOWY OWL. Tundra, open country, fields and prairie. N Greenland, Iceland (formerly), Shetland Is. (formerly), and from w,n Scandinavia e across n Russia and n Siberia including Novaya Zemlya to Chukotski Pen., Anadyrland, n Koryakland, and Commander and Hall islands.
North America in the w Aleutians on Attu and Buldir, Hall Island in the Bering Sea and from n Alaska, n Yukon and Banks, Prince Patrick and n Ellesmere islands s to coastal w Alaska to Hooper Bay, n Mackenzie, s Keewatin, ne Manitoba, Southampton and Belcher islands, n Quebec and n Labrador. Winters irregularly s to c,sc U.S. (rarely s to c Calif., c Texas, Georgia), n Europe, n Russia, nw,ne China and Japan.