Snowy Owl Facts & Spotting Tips
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 and Norman Smith, Director of Mass Audubon's Blue Hills Trailside Museum, has been studying them since 1981 by attaching bands and transmitters to snowy owls at Logan Airport (and tracking their adventures). (Learn more about Mass Audubon’s work to protect snowy owls.)
Here’s 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. A snowy owl was recently spotted in the Middlesex Fells Reservation!
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.