Wildlife Wednesday: Snowy Owl

Wildlife Wednesday: Snowy Owl

This Wildlife Wednesday, learn about the snowy owl, and why we’ve been seeing more of them in British Columbia.

Habitat: the Arctic tundra, Canada; the northern United States; Europe; and Asia

Snowy owl trivia

  • While the name “snowy owl” might imply that they’re pure white, only adult males are completely white. Females are spotted and chicks are darker with spots.
  • Unlike other owls, which hunt only at night, the snowy owl hunts day or night.
  • Snowy owls breed in the Arctic, and may stay there during the year, or journey south in the summer to hunt for lemmings—their favourite food.
  • Along with lemmings, these owls eat rabbits, rodents, birds, and fish—pretty much whatever’s available!
  • The province of Quebec has designated the snowy owl as its official bird.
  • Snowy owl females can have up to 11 chicks in good years when there’s lots of food around. However, in years when food is scarce, they don’t reproduce at all.
  • These big birds have a wingspan of 125 to 145 cm (49 to 57 in).
  • Ever wondered how owls can rotate their heads? Scientists have been trying to find out, too, and now they have the answer. The researchers found that the owls have contractile blood reservoirs that allow “owls to pool blood to meet the energy needs.” If we humans were do rotate our heads to the same extent (up to 270 degrees) we would likely die of a stroke—so don’t try it at home!

Why they’re threatened

Although the snowy owl population trend is decreasing, they are not listed as endangered, or even vulnerable. This is because they have such a large range, and the population size isn’t small enough for it to fit the “vulnerable” criteria, so there don’t appear to be any serious concerns.

However, recent news reports tell a different story. In late 2012, there were many reports of snowy owls arriving in BC, and many were emaciated and starving. Experts hypothesize that they left the Arctic because the rodent population was reduced. If you’re interested in learning about how you can support snowy owl populations, contact an environmental organization or wildlife conservation group and ask how you can help.

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