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Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)

Snowy Owl by Sunny Walter
Snowy Owl by Sunny Walter

This large white owl is 20-23 inches (the size of a Great Horned Owl) and is merely a winter visitor here.  Its four letter code is SNOW.  It has a rounded head and yellow eyes.  Dark bars and spots are heavier on females, heaviest on young birds, while old males may be pure white. 

It preys chiefly on lemmings, other rodent and hares.  Its flight is firm and protracted, smooth and noiseless.  It passes over seizing its pretty by "falling" on it and devouring it on the spot. 

The SNOW is an owl of the open tundra, nests on open ground in far northern Alaska and Canada, and hunts both day and night.  They perch conspicuously on the ground or on low stumps, fence posts and buildings.  They retreat from the northernmost part of their range in winter and at least a few are seen in northern U.S. 

This year (1997) there has been the largest irruption of Snowy Owls in Washington State since the winter of 1973-74.  They have been regularly seen in the Samish and Skagit Flats.  The Falcon Research Group reports that with the Snowy Owl invasion this year, tagging efforts are proving difficult because they are so robust and fat.  Look for a numbered yellow tag on their right wing, call (360) 757-1911 if you make a positive ID.

John James Audubon sighted a Snowy Owl laying low near the ground next to a pothole pond in Ohio with his head laid down, for some time; "One might have supposed the bird sound asleep...that instant the Owl thrust out the foot next to the water, and with the quickness of lightning, seized it..." (a fish" and threw it clear of the water and devoured it.  It was this event that proved that fish can be dietary supplement also for the Snowy Owl.


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