Snowy owls (Otherwise known as arctic owls, or polar owls) are bright, beautiful, and graceful birds! Hedwig, from the Harry Potter series, is a snowy owl, which is ironic given that the series author would not enjoy the sexual ambiguity of this species. With that, let's dive into the research and uncover as much information as we can about these owls.
Physical Description and Behavior
These crow-sized owls are mostly white but can be speckled with brown or black spots. Females tend to have a larger number of these spots than males. That said, only about 2% of all captured snowy owls were nearly devoid of these spots, showing that a pure white plumage is pretty rare.
Fun fact: Due to the inherent diversity in the appearance of snowy owls, especially at a young age, finding out the age or sex of any individual is a monumental task. This is something that even experts on these birds still struggle with to this day. In the words of Bertie Josephson in the Journal of Field Ornithology in 1980: "It is difficult to age Snowy Owls unless sex is known and vice versa."
Although most owls are nocturnal, the snowy owl has been seen hunting at all times of the day. Especially during the summer, when the darkest it may get in the northernmost areas is a form of twilight. They try to hunt mainly in the darker times due to this period being the time most rodents will come out of hiding.
These owls primarily subsist on lemmings but have been seen consuming other mammals, small birds, and insects as well. Like other carnivorous birds, the snowy owl will consume their prey whole. Soft tissues are digested whereas the bones and other non-digestible parts get vomited up about a day or two later.
Habitat and Location
These owls can be found basically in all areas north of the Tropic of Cancer. This includes Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Russia, much of northern Europe and Asia, and can even be found in the northernmost states of the US. Their main habitat seems to be the arctic tundra.
The snowy owl is considered to be Vulnerable according to the IUCN Red List. This is mainly due to their decreasing population, which is caused by climate change, habitat destruction, and other human factors. It is believed that there are only 28,000 arctic owls left in the wild.
To hear more information about the snowy owl, check out the video below!