6 Facts About the Strikingly Beautiful Snowy Owl

A snowy owl sits on an ice-covered hill. Shayna Hartley/ MNN Flickr Group

Snowy owls, despite their white plumage that allows them to blend into their Arctic surroundings, are easily recognizable. They're beloved as a symbol of winter and as a companion to Harry Potter.

The image above, snapped by Shayna Hartley, was the result of plenty of patience on Hartley's part.

"I came across this snowy owl perched on an ice covered hill after a flash winter storm in Kingston, Ontario, Canada," she told MNN. "I was able to create this image by waiting in a knee-deep bank until the sun hit the peak of the hill, allowing me to capture the glisten of the icy landscape surrounding the beautiful owl."

Of course, there's more to these owls than their striking good looks.

1. Snowy owls have an impressive wingspan. The owls can stretch their wings between 4 and 5 feet (1.2 and 1.5 meters), giving them the ability to either silently sneak up on their prey without needing a lot of flapping or to quickly accelerate after their prey should it bolt.

2. Snowy owls are heavy. Their dense plumage, necessary for staying warm, makes them among the heaviest of owls. They weigh between 3.5 and 6.6 pounds (1.6 to 3 kilograms), which is more than the great horned owl, which maxes out at around 5 pounds.

3. Snowy owls aren't night owls. While we commonly think of owls as nighttime hunters, snowy owls do much of their hunting during the day (though they do hunt at night, too, making the birds diurnal). This isn't surprising, however, since the birds experience longer summer days given their Arctic locale.

4. Snowy owls are patient, except when they're eating. The birds will spend hours sitting in one spot, waiting to see or hear — the owls have exceptional hearing — their prey. When they do catch a meal, often a lemming or a vole, they down the varmint in a single gulp!

5. Snowy owls aren't always white. It's true! While they're known for their snow-hued plumage, males start with barred swatches of dark brown and get whiter as they age. Females, however, keep those dark markings over the course of their lives. So the whitest birds are almost always males and the most barred ones are almost always female.

6. The snowy owl represents Quebec, but it doesn't represent Canada. In 1987, the Canadian province of Quebec selected the snowy owl as its official bird. The snowy owl was in the running to be Canada's national bird in 2016, with its supporters citing the fact that the bird can be found across all of Canada throughout the year and that it was well-suited for the harshness of Canadian winters. The gray jay was selected by the Royal Canadian Geographic Society instead of the snowy owl, but the Canadian government declined to adopt the jay as a national symbol. (So there's still a chance, snowy owls!)