These beautiful birds are covered in white and dark brown feathers—perfect camouflage in their usually snowy habitat. Males can be pure white, but females always have some brown feathers. Since snowy owls are found in colder climates, they have a thick layer of down underneath their many layers of feathers in order to keep warm in the most frigid temperatures.
The snowy owl is well equipped for hunting and can see further distances than humans. Their eyes have circles of feathers around them that help reflect sound to their ears. These birds are great judges of distance, which helps them to swoop down on prey with great accuracy. Their long black claws, ideal for snatching species such as lemmings, can grow up to 3.5 centimetres long.
Snowy owls can live in the Arctic regions of North America and Eurasia year-round. Some, however, only stay during breeding and nesting season. When winter comes, they migrate to southern Canada and even the United States. Some snowy owls also cross the Atlantic Ocean, migrating between Russia and Canada.
Snowy owls usually stay with one breeding partner for life. Breeding season begins in May, after the owls return to the Arctic from their winter grounds. During courtship, a male snowy owl will often kill a prey animal, usually a lemming, and hold it in its mouth to attract females.
Fast Facts: Snowy Owl
Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
Average weight: 1.6 kilograms to three kilograms
Average wingspan: 1.3 metres to 1.5 metres
Average lifespan: 10 years in the wild
A sudden boom in the number of snowy owls migrating south is called an “irruption.” In the winter of 2018, an irruption brought huge numbers of the owls to Toronto, where they are normally quite rare.
In the Harry Potter films, Harry’s owl Hedwig is played by snowy owls. Although the character is female, male owls were used because only males are completely white.
The snowy owl’s luminous yellow eyes are surrounded by circles of feathers that help reflect sound to their ears.
Did you know?
Unlike many other owl species, the snowy owl is not completely nocturnal. That’s because its breeding grounds are above the Arctic Circle, where there is 24-hour daylight in summer. In winter, snowy owls hunt during the day or night, depending on local conditions and the prey they’re seeking.