The Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) is a large owl of the typical owl family Strigidae. It is also known in North America as the Arctic Owl or the Great White Owl. They are normally found in the northern circumpolar regions above latitude 60 degrees north, although due to population fluctuations in its prey species, they have been known to relocate and breed at more southerly latitudes. They have been reported as far south as the American Gulf states, southern Russia, northern China and even the Caribbean.
The Snowy Owl is unmistakable. It is 21 to 26 inches long with a 49 to 59 inch wingspan. The adult male is virtually pure white, but females and young have some dark scalloping. The young are heavily barred, and dark spotting may even predominate. Its thick plumage, heavily feathered feet and coloration render the Snowy Owl well-adapted for life in the Arctic Circle.
This species of owl nests on the ground, building a nest on top of a mound or boulder. They prefer a site with good visibility and ready access to hunting areas. Gravel bars and abandoned eagle nests may also be used. Breeding occurs in May and depending on the amount of prey available, clutch sizes range from 5 to 14 eggs. Incubation lasts approximately five weeks after which pure white young are born and cared for by both parents.
These powerful birds rely mostly on lemmings and other rodents for food. Adult owls require at least two lemmings per day, and a family may eat up to 1500 lemmings before the young set out to fend for themselves. Like other Short-eared owls, the Snowy Owl typically hunts for food during the daylight hours. Though they also may hunt at night, they can hardly avoid being diurnal* in the nightless Arctic summers.
Due to their beauty, Snowy Owls are kept in captivity by wildlife centers, zoological gardens and by serious hobbyists. They are known to be sensitive to disease, stress and heat, frequently perishing during attempts to train a wild owl during the summer. These owls are not suitable for beginning raptor keepers.