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Snowy Owl

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Is the Snowy Owl right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Snow Owl

Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus

The basics:
The famous Snowy Owl is the well-known bird of the northern tundra that invades the more southerly regions in winters when the lemming population collapses, allowing them to be seen as far south as Texas in a particularly good year such as winter 2011-2012. The birds pushed off the northern territory are usually the younger ones, still heavily barred across the white plumage. The huge females will be somewhat heavily barred for life, but an older male may sometimes get close to pure white. Combined with their stunning yellow eyes, their habit of perching in the open on or near the ground, and the fact that they are more diurnal than many other owls, Snowy Owls demand attention.

As a native bird of the United States, Snowy Owls enjoy powerful legal protection. Americans will not normally be licensed to hold one, so if you want to work with native owls, your best bet is to volunteer for a licensed facility. At the time of writing, the legal situation is quite different in the United Kingdom, and a scandal has arisen as a result of untrained persons purchasing these birds (and other owls) as pets – then releasing them into the wild when they discover that the care is more challenging and expensive than they imagined. The following information is offered only as a hint of what you will need to learn to work with this or any other owl. There is no substitute for hands-on training, which we strongly recommend that you pursue before trying to acquire any bird of prey.

These owls breed in the far north where summer days are so long that sometimes it seems to never get truly dark at all. Therefore, unlike many owl species, they are well-adapted to being active during daylight hours. In good years, with lots of prey, Snowy Owls can be extremely productive in the wild, laying as many as 10 or 12 eggs in a clutch. In bad years, when the prey populations collapse, Snowy Owl hens may lay only one or two eggs. Even with these small clutches, when the inevitable bad weather comes, there may prove to be too many Snowies for too few prey animals, forcing many birds to move south of their normal range for the winter. For most people, these “irruptions,” as they are called, will be the best opportunity to admire a wild Snowy Owl.

Appearance:
A large, eye-catching white owl with yellow eyes. Young birds and females are heavily barred, but older males may become the classic nearly-pure white owl of myth and legend.

Weight:
1,600 - 3,000 grams (56 - 106 oz.)

Average size:
55 - 65 centimeters (22 - 26 in.)

Lifespan:
25 - 28 years

Behavior / temperament:
Snowy Owls are more diurnal and perch lower and in more open areas than many owls, allowing them to show better than the more nocturnal owls. Hence, a top expert, properly licensed, may have a high regard for this beautiful bird. That doesn't make the Snowy Owl a good pet for a beginner with fiction-based ideas of owl behavior.

Housing:
A single Snowy Owl demands a large pen with plenty of low perches such as tree stumps and flattish boulders. Have a full roof over the aviary, to protect the bird from wet weather and also from the harassment of small wild birds who might otherwise form a mob to tease the owl. This species is not heat and humidity tolerant, and it will need protection – perhaps even an entire air-conditioned indoor aviary – to protect from summery weather. Like most other birds of prey, Snowy Owls appreciate a bath of shallow water.

Diet:
Like all owls, Snowy Owls are carnivores that lack a crop. Overfed owls are particularly notorious for producing a vile-smelling vomit, but all owls including Snowies will regularly regurgitate undigested pellets that contain such items as bones, fur, claws, teeth, and so on. This process is normal, and to allow the bird's digestive system to perform properly, you must be willing to supply a variety of whole foods such as chicks, mice, Coturnix quail, and rats. The old legend that birds of prey don't drink is just a myth. Birds without access to drinking water will be forced to drink their bath water.

Written by Elaine Radford

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