Snowy Owl Facts & Spotting Tips

It's time for a nature lesson! Today, Hillary of Mass Audubon shares fun facts and observational tips about a bird that's been in the media lately:

Every fall, snowy owls (think Hedwig from Harry Potter) leave their breeding grounds in the Arctic and head south for the less frigid winter temperatures. Sightings vary year to year. This year is already shaping up to be a booming snowy owl season, to the delight of bird watchers but not so much to New York airport authorities.

What's the relationship between airports and snowy owls? Short story: New York airport authorities initially took a different approach to removing the owls than Mass Audubon’s Norman Smith, who has been safely trapping and relocating snowies at Logan Airport for more than 30 years. (Get details on the longer version of this story, and how you can help support Norman’s work.)

Now, on to some fun trivia you can learn and share with your kids; hopefully you'll spot a snowy owl soon!

Snowy Owl Fun Facts

  • Snowy owls are the largest North American owls, and they’re among the largest owls in the world. They are 20” – 28” in length, with a wing span of 54” – 66”, and weigh 3.25lb – 6.5lb.
  • In North America, some of the owls can weather temperatures as low as -80°F. 
  • Despite their name, most snowy owls are not pure snowy white. They range from all white to black and white, with a pattern of dark, prominent bars—except on the face, which is always white. Females typically have more dark markings than males.
  • Snowy owls’ deep yellow eyes don’t move, so they must turn their entire heads, which they swivel a full 270° with the help of 14 neck vertebrae.
  • Snowy owls eat voles, lemmings, and other small rodents, as well as birds. They hunt by hovering in the air looking for prey, or by watching for prey from a perch.

Looking for Snowy Owls?

  • Snowy owls arriving in Massachusetts tend to seek local habitats that mimic the Arctic tundra where they spend most of their lives. Popular sightings include Westport, New Bedford, Nantucket, Orleans, Duxbury Beach, and of course, Plum Island.
  • You can see recent sighting reports via eBird. If you do see a snowy owl, do enjoy from afar as to not disturb their normal behavior.
  • Not up for the hunt? You can view a pair of resident snowy owls at the Blue Hills Trailside Museum in Milton.

Have you spotted a snowy owl in your neighborhood? Editor Christine Koh recently spotted one during the day in Connecticut!

Image credit: Mass Audubon

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