Snowy owl

COMMON NAME: Snowy owlSnowy Owl

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Bubo scandiacus

A very large, white owl, the snowy owl can be as tall as a great horned owl and weighs more than any other North American owl. Its head is very round with no ear tufts, and its yellow eyes and black beak are very prominent. Adult males become almost pure white, while the females and immature birds are speckled with black or brown.


The snowy owl’s distribution is circumpolar. In the summer, it is found only in the arctic tundra. In the winter, this owl is considered a regular visitor to the Great Plains, with isolated individuals being found as far as Indiana. There are occasional invasion years in which large numbers of owls move south out of the tundra into the United States. These invasions are caused by a combination of crashes in the lemming population and weather. Snowy owls are considered a regular winter visitor to Minnesota.

This owl prefers open spaces, be it tundra, grasslands, or frozen expanses of water. Its normal home is the treeless tundra, but in the winter it can be found hunting in harbor, railroad yards or cities.

The female lays her eggs on the ground. Dependent on the cyclic lemming for the majority of its food, snowy owls produce large clutches during years with abundant lemmings, and small clutches in lean years. The number of eggs the female lays seems to be stimulated by the amount of food the male is able to supply.

Relying primarily on small rodents such as lemmings, this large owl is also capable of taking hares, and large birds such as ptarmigan as well.

A few snowy owls are seen in the clinic every year, usually as a result of some human-induced injury.

The snowy owl has no special status.