Snowy owls have excellent eyesight and hearing.
Snowy owls have excellent eyesight and hearing.
Photograph by Glenn Nagel, Dreamstime

Snowy Owl

When you see a snowy owl, it's clear how the bird probably got its name: they're snow-white. Males are generally whiter than females. As males grow older, they get whiter. The females never become completely white—remaining brownish with darker markings.

Common Name:
Snowy Owl
Scientific Name:
Bubo scandiaca
Group Name:
Average Life Span In The Wild:
10 years
Body: 20 to 28 inches; wingspan: 4.2 to 4.8 feet
3.5 to 6.5 pounds

These large owls mainly live in the Arctic in open, treeless areas called tundra. Snowy owls perch on the ground or on short posts. From there they patiently watch for prey. Their favorite target is lemmings—small mouselike rodents—but they also hunt for other small rodents, rabbits, birds, and fish.

Snowy owls have excellent eyesight, but they obviously can't see their prey when it's underneath snow or a thick layer of plants. To capture those meals, the owl relies on its other keen sense: hearing.

In flight, snowy owls generally cruise low to the ground. Once they spot their prey, they approach it from the air, and snatch it up using the large, sharp talons, or claws, on their feet.

Most owls sleep during the day and hunt at night, but the snowy owl is active during the day, especially in the summertime. They tend to be most active at dawn and dusk.

Snowy owl pairs usually mate for life. Female snowy owls lay from 3 to 11 eggs at a time, in a nest built on the ground. When there is plenty of food available, snowy owls tend to lay more eggs than when food is scarce.

Lemmings make up the main part of the snowy owls' diet, and lemming population numbers rise and fall naturally. Sometimes, if there is not enough prey around to feed baby owls, the adult pair won't lay any eggs at all until the supply of food improves.

The female snowy owl sits on her eggs until they hatch. The male feeds her while she keeps their eggs warm and safe. After about one month, the eggs hatch.

Babies are covered in soft white down when they hatch. As new feathers replace the down, the birds become light brown.

The young leave the nest less than a month after they hatch. By the time they're about a month and a half old, the young owls can fly well, but their parents take care of them for another ten weeks or more.