Snowy owls were first seen in Northern Europe and first identified in 1758. Their distinctive coloring (white with gray or brownish barring) helps them stay camouflaged in their natural habitat: cold, snow-covered grassy tundra with some rocky outcroppings. They spend much time in the very northern regions surrounding the north pole. During non-breeding time they may move farther south into Canada and the northern United States.
The male snowy owl, although born grayish-brown, turns very white as he ages. He may keep up to three gray bands on his tail. The oldest males are the whitest. The average male weight is about fifty-seven ounces (slightly over three and one half pounds) and his average height is around twenty-three inches (just under two feet). When he is being territorial around his nesting area or during breeding season the male will hoot loudly with a resounding "hoo, hoo." The typical call sounds like a coarse bark. Males hunt and protect their mate and babies.
Female snowy owls have white faces and bibs but keep their gray and brownish barred back and wing coloring throughout their life. They have from four to six gray bands on their tails. Females are larger than the males weighing about sixty ounces (just under four pounds) and averaging about twenty-six inches (just over two feet) in height. Females rarely hoot. Their sound is higher pitched than the male.
Breeding and Nesting
Males and females start looking for mates in mid winter. Males show themselves off and bring food to a cache to show to the female. Breeding starts around May. The female clears a nesting area on the ground and lines it with a few feathers and soft vegetation. She lays an average of three to twelve eggs depending on the food supply. If food supplies are very low they may not lay any eggs that year. They lay an egg every two days so hatching is staggered. Hatching starts after about a month. The male hunts and brings food to his mate while she sits on the eggs.
Juvenile snowy owls are covered with gray to white down. Shortly they start to change to the coloring of the adults: the males, more white with gray bands turning to spots, and the females, more intense barring. Their nesting sounds are "cheep, cheep." This lasts for about two weeks then they start squealing and hissing. They begin leaving the nest, before they can fly, at about three weeks. They start flying after about two months.
Snowy owls eat their prey whole only occasionally tearing it apart first. The young are given the meat only, without fur, feathers or bones. Lemmings are the favorite food of snowy owls. In a year, adults may eat over sixteen hundred lemmings. They also hunt for various other rodents including rabbits, as well as birds or fish. Snowy owls are diurnal meaning they are active during the daytime. Males and females have an average wingspan of four to five feet.