Snowy OwlBubo scandiacus

adult male
Jari Peltomaki/VIREO
adult female
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult female or 1st yr male
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult female or 1st yr male
Rob Curtis/VIREO
Scott Linstead/VIREO
Warren Greene/VIREO
Snowy Owl



24" (61 cm). W. 4' 7" (1.4 m). A big, round-headed owl, ranging in color from pure white to white with dark spotting or barring. Female is larger and more heavily marked than male, but the markings are variable enough that some birds are difficult to sex.


Usually silent; hoarse croak and shrill whistle on breeding grounds.


Open country: tundra, dunes, marshes, fields, plains, and airports in winter.


Breeds in northern Alaska and in northernmost Canada. Winters south throughout Canada into northern United States, irregularly farther. Also in Eurasia.


This great white owl is a beautiful sight as it perches upright on a fence post or flies over a marsh. Strictly a bird of open country, it is practically never seen in a tree; it sits on the ground, a rooftop, or other exposed resting place. In the Far North where it breeds, it depends largely on lemmings for food. The size of the lemming population periodically changes (due to population explosions and subsequent epidemics), and when lemming numbers decrease the owls must migrate southward to avoid starvation. In southern latitudes, the owls prey on rabbits, waterfowl, and other game, or on dead fish on ocean beaches. They prey on Norway rats in large refuse dumps.


5-8 white eggs with a lining of feathers, mosses, and lichens placed on open tundra.

Similar Species

adult male

Barn Owl

18" (46 cm). W. 3' 8" (1.1 m). Crow-sized. Buff-brown above and white below, with heart-shaped face and numerous fine dark dots on white underparts; dark eyes, long legs.


Great Gray Owl

24-33" (61-84 cm). W. 5' (1.5 m).

adult Northern Spotted Owl

Spotted Owl

16 1/2 -19" (42-48 cm). A medium-sized owl without ear tufts. Upperparts dark brown with white spots; underparts white, heavily barred with brown; eyes dark.


Barred Owl

20" (51 cm). W. 3' 8" (1.1 m). A large, stocky, dark-eyed owl. Gray-brown, with crossbarring on neck and breast and streaks on belly; no ear tufts. See Spotted Owl.


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