13 facts about the splendid snowy owl

Snowy owl
© Wang LiQiang

In which we praise these glorious birds of prey.

From the mighty ostrich to the wee bee hummingbird, members of the avian class large and small all display a certain degree of majesty, but the snowy owl ranks up there with the most resplendent of all. These wintry white masters of the tundra may not have the mystery of their kin who call the forest home, but that the snowy owl was Harry Potter’s pet of choice is obviously indicative of their magic. Here’s what else makes them some of the most fascinating owls around.

1. They cover some ground
Snowy owls can be found during the breeding season from the western Aleutians in Alaska to northeastern Manitoba, northern Quebec and northern Labrador in Canada. When they head south for the winter, they make it to the northern United States … sometimes as far south as central California … and even as far as Texas or Florida.

2. They are impressive in build
Snowy owls have an abundance of feathers to keep them warm, which adds to their weight of around four pounds … making them the heaviest owl species in North America. They ring in at a pound heavier than a great horned owl and double the weight of a great gray owl (North America’s tallest owl).

3. They follow the lemmings
While snowy owls enjoy rodents and hares, they appear to delight in lemmings; an adult can eat three to five of the rodents a day. Because of this, their local numbers rise and fall with that of the lemming population. During times of lemming population booms they can raise double or triple their usual brood.

4. They are not night owls
Late night humans are called night owls because most owls are nocturnal; but not the snowy ones ... they hunt mostly during the day. Given that they spend their summers in the 24-hour sunlight north of the Arctic Circle, that’s a good thing.

5. They have cool aliases
Snowy owls are also known as the Arctic owl or the great white owl.

6. The males are pale
Males of the species have dark brown bars when young and get whiter as they age; females retain dark markings throughout their lives. Even though females can be pale and males can retain some markings, the whitest of the bunch are always male.

7. They wear slippers, of sorts
To provide insulation for the cold Arctic climate, their feet are swathed in feathers.

8. They prefer open space
Snowy owls like to hunt in treeless open places, think the tundra, planes, airport fields or beach dunes. This is much in part due to the fact that they often sit on the ground to hunt.

9. They are acrobats
They are one of the most agile owls out there; they are so adept that they can catch small birds in mid-air.

10. They've got the keenest of senses
Like most owls they have excellent eyesight, but since snowy owls' prey is often beneath the snow, they have a remarkable sense of hearing as well.

11. They’re not chicken
Snowy owls can be pretty aggressive when defending their territory or against another species; they’ve been known to divebomb humans and have been reported to even attack Arctic wolves.

12. They develop roots
Snowy owls build their nests on the tundra, using their bodies to shape and hollow out their homes. The male selects the territory, the female selects the site within … they often reuse the same nest site for many years.

13. They are love birds
Snowy owls generally mate for life. Swoop, swoon, repeat.

Sources: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

13 facts about the splendid snowy owl
In which we praise these glorious birds of prey.

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