If you’re fascinated by white owls, you are not alone. In general, people love owls, and white owls (aka snowy owls) are at the top of the “I want to see that” list.
It’s not hard to see why. These are gorgeous, stunning birds. Plus, it’s a challenge to see one, so of course you want that experience. I look forward to snowy owls migrating to my area of Wisconsin every single year, and I enjoy learning about these cool birds. Here are some of my favorite facts.
1. Snowy owls are good enough for Harry Potter.
Yes, the famous Hedwig in Harry Potter is a snowy owl. It was a gift from Hagrid for Harry’s 11th birthday.
2. Snowies are the only white owl species.
Yes, the only white owl is the snowy owl. The barn owl should get an honorable mention because it has a white face and plumage. But the only true white owl is the snowy.
3. Females are bigger, too!
With many birds, the male is bigger than the female. But the snowy owl is an exception. Males are a couple inches smaller and one to two pounds smaller than females.
4. They have a huge wingspan.
The wingspan of snowy owls are really impressive. They can reach between five and six feet in flight!
5. You won’t find snowy owls in the forest.
Most people associate all owls with forested areas. This is not the case for snowies. They like open fields so they can a good view for hunting small animals. It’s common to find snowy owls on telephone poles, hay bales, and other perches near an open area. Over the years, there have been a lot of reports of snowy owls at airports. Here where I live in Milwaukee, these owls often show up near Lake Michigan in the winter.
6. Where do snowy owls live?
These beautiful white owls will spend most of their time in the far northern areas of North America. Then as winter comes along and they need more to eat, they’ll head south. But remember south usually means southern parts of Canada and the northern United States, so not a lot of people get the chance to see this beautiful owl in person. Now some years they can migrate farther south, but it’s never a guarantee.
7. What do snowies eat?
With snowy owls migrating south to eat, you might wonder what they eat. They will eat just about any small mammal, including lemmings, hares, and even small geese. They will also eat other, smaller birds. Since a lot of these animals hibernate and take cover during winter, they have to go wherever they can find food.
8. Increase your chances of seeing a snowy owl.
If you really want to se a snowy owl for yourself, then your best bet is to travel to an area where they are seen regularly. (Canada would love to have you!) If you do have snowy owls in your area, there’s this awesome interactive map where you can put in your location to find local sightings. It’s so cool. Check it out.
9. Know what to look for.
It can be challenging to see a snowy out in the wild. Think about a plastic bag stuck on the top of a fencepost, and this is about what a snowy owl would look like! Unlike a lot of owls that are nocturnal, they are actually diurnal. They are usually very still during the day and can be really far away, so be patient and use a good pair of binoculars. Scan the area slowly, and look for any shapes from the landscape that seem out of the ordinary.
10. Find bird friends.
It’s great to have someone who knows what they’re looking for. This can make your snowy owl experience a lot more fun (and easy). So, look for bird walks, owl prowls, or ask at your location nature/Audubon center to ask if they’ve heard of any sightings in your area. They can often point you in the right direction.
11. Snowy owl females can have a lot of young!
They might lay as many 11 eggs at once. It depends a lot on how much food the female is eating. If food is scarce, there might only be a few. But if they have a lot in a season, they could have as many as 11! This can be a lot of mouths to feed. Then the babies will leave about 30 days after they hatch.
12. Snowy babies have dark feathers.
They don’t hatch with white feathers. In fact, they have a mix of dark feathers that look like ash or soot. They eventually molt to the adult colors.
13. Is it male or female?
It’s hard to tell the difference between male and female snowy owls. However, male owls do tend to be more white overall while females can look really spotted with all their black markings. Males also get whiter as they age. The photo here shows a mature white snowy.
14. They are heavy owls.
Actually, they are the heaviest owl in North America! Even though the great gray owl and the great horned owl are bigger, the snowy weighs the most. They weigh around four pounds. This is because they need some serious insulation and lots of feathers to stay warm.
15. Snowy owls really have feathers everywhere.
In fact, they go all the way down on their feet, too. Yes, the feet of white owls are completely covered in feathers. It almost looks like they are wearing slippers!
16. The numbers are declining.
At one point, there were as many as 300,000 snowy owls. Now, scientists are afraid there might only be around 30,000. It’s important we all do our parts to protect habitat for animals like snowy owls.