Wild Profile: meet the snowy owl

Updated: January 28, 2019

By KarynS/Shutterstock

With a name like “snowy”, it’s no wonder that these owls can winter further north than any other bird. That said, if their main source of food—lemmings—gets low, the bulky predators leave the Arctic tundra and head south for cottage country.

Most owls are nocturnal, but snowies hunt day and night. They’ll eat at least half a dozen mice or voles per day—but that really isn’t much, given the size of these birds. They’re up to a metre tall, with a wingspan of 1.5 metres, and they weigh at least as much as a winter parka. Snowies have a slow metabolism. In one day, they only burn about as many calories as a raven does.

Snowies are built for, well, the snow. A layer of down, covered by feathers, blankets a snowy owl’s entire body—including the legs and clawed feet. Snowy owls are white year-round and don’t change colour with the seasons, though it’s often only the older males that actually look pure white. Males have lighter plumage than the females to begin with, and they tend to get paler as they age.

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