Saturday, January 21, 2012


Usually, snowy owls live way up north in the Arctic.  But sometimes they run out of owl food, and then they have to fly down south to places like Missouri to spend the winter.  Which is why there have been reports of snowy owls around here lately, and also in other parts of the U.S.  In some years, these owls have been seen as far south as Texas, Georgia, southern Russia, northern China, and even in the Caribbean.  If you look on the nice map I found, you will see the green parts, which are the owls' summer range, and the blue parts, which are how far south the owls sometimes go in winter.

What snowy owls most like to eat is lemmings, cute little rodents that live in the arctic.  Lemmings look pretty yummy in the pictures, so I don't blame the owls for liking to eat them.  Oh, and by the way, it is not true that lemmings jump off of cliffs and kill themselves.  There was a Disney film back in 1958 that showed lemmings doing that, but it turns out that the photographers set it all up and herded the lemmings off the cliff.

A lemming in the snow
But getting back to snowy owls, they will settle for eating lots of other things, if they can't have lemmings.  These other things include meadow voles, deer mice, hares, muskrats, marmots, squirrels, rabbits, prairie dogs, rats, and moles.  Also they like to eat birds such as ducks, geese, pheasants, grouse, coots, grebes, gulls, and songbirds.  Sometimes they eat fish or dead animals, too, so as you can tell, they are not too fussy about their diet.

A snowy owl in Kansas
Snowy owls go out hunting during the day, unlike many other owls who prefer to hunt at night.  Their favorite times to hunt are dawn and dusk.  Mostly an owl hunts by sitting on a fence post or someplace, where it waits until some prey wanders by.  Owls have really excellent eyesight and hearing, so when they notice some prey, they swoop down and grab it with their long, sharp talons.  An adult owl needs to eat up to 5 lemmings per day, or 7 to 12 mice.

Owls don't chew their food because of course they don't have any teeth.  They might tear up bigger pieces of meat, but when they catch some kind of small prey, they just swallow it whole.  Then the juices in their stomach digest the good parts, and the other stuff, such as fur, bones, teeth, and feathers, gets made up into a little pellet thing that the owl pukes up.  Biologists like these pellets because they can take them apart and find out what the owls are eating.

Adult males are almost totally white, but females and young owls have some bars and scallop patterns in their feathers.  The size of the owls is between 20 and 28 inches long, and their wingspan is 49 to 59 inches.  Snowy owls are one of the heaviest species, with a weight of 3.5 to 6.6 pounds.  In the wild, they live about 9.5 years, and in captivity, they can live for 35 years.

The mating of snowy owls happens in May.  Then they build a nest  on top of a mound or boulder, or sometimes they use an old eagle nest.  The nest site has to be in a place where the owls can see all around to watch for predators.  The female lays between 5 and 14 eggs, depending on how much food is available.  If food is really hard to find, the owls won't raise any chicks at all that year.

Anyway, it takes about 5 weeks for the eggs to hatch.  The female sits on the nest the whole time, and the male brings her food to eat.  Also he guards the nest.  Both parents will fight any predators that come around, even wolves.  Other types of predators they might have to fight off include foxes, ravens, dogs, and other raptors.  The baby owls learn to fly after about a month, but their mom and dad keep on watching after them for about 10 more weeks.  In the wintertime, some snowy owls migrate, but others stay on the breeding ground all year.

The Oglala Lakota Indians thought of the snowy owl as the symbol of North and the North Wind.  They admired the owls so much that a warrior who did well in combat wore a cap of owl feathers to show his bravery.

The province of Quebec, in Canada, has adopted the snowy owl as its official bird.

And if you ever read any Harry Potter books or saw any of the movies, you will know that Harry had a snowy owl named Hedwig as a pet.

I asked Mom if we could get a Hedwig of our very own, but she said we do not have enough lemmings in our yard to feed a snowy owl.  And if an owl got really hungry for lack of lemmings, it might just decide to eat a small basenji!


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  2. Wait BUNNNIIEES being eaten??????????????????????????????????????
    NO!!!! Well an owl is an owl and that's why I live indoors.
    Well, I can't blame them, I mean I am delicious

    1. Owls don't eat humans. They only eat small rodents and insects when they are little.

    2. No one has said that owls eat humans. We just said they might eat a small dog or a bunny. But maybe a people-eating owl would be a good idea for a Sci-Fi movie!

      Sincerely, Piper

  3. Dear Lucky,
    I think you are smart to stay inside, since there are lots of birds and animals that like to eat bunnies, especially delicious ones! I like to eat bunnies myself, but I would never eat YOU, of course!
    Your friend, Piper

  4. This is one article I can Totally relate to!

  5. i love snowy white owls i think they are amazing
    [in google type in snowy owland look at the pretty pics]

  6. oops mean type in snowy owl and look at the pics]

  7. This site was very helpful. at school we have to make brochures

  8. This report is really cool !!!!!!

  9. why does it ask you to prove your not a robot!?!?

    1. Because people who send out spam do it "robotically" through computer programs that just target a lot of different email addresses and websites. The computer can't read the weird letters, though. Only real people (supposedly) can read them.

  10. What a great piece about Snowy Owls. Easy to read and understand and some great photos. Love it when education comes in a story. Kids and adults alike will love this blog. Thank you from an adult bird watcher !

  11. snowy owls are here in western ky i seen one it was erie

  12. I'm starting a IT company in Quebec and it will have de French name of the snowy owl in it's title.

    There's a picture on this page that I would like to print on my invoices. Are the images here copyrighted and if so, where can I gat a right to use such a piture ?

    you can answer me at

    Thanks !