6 Fascinating Snowy Owl Facts

Normally, these owls spend their summers up at the very northernmost fringe of the world, in the arctic tundra. Learn more snowy owl facts.

snowy owlCourtesy Katie Heade
A snowy owl in northeast Ohio

This post is from Hugh Powell, science editor with Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Normally, snowy owls spend their summers up at the very northernmost fringe of the world, in the arctic tundra. They visit the U.S. most winters, but in low numbers. This year is one of the best in memory—they’ve been seen from Nova Scotia to the Olympic Peninsula and as far south as Missouri. Have you seen one yet? Here are snowy owls facts you might not know, and a video to whet your appetite.

Snowy Owls Don’t Get Cold

Remember, any snowy owl you see this winter is about as far south as it ever goes. Snowy owls live through dark, frigid winters, and sit through minus 40 degree nights without flinching. Regardless of how cold you might be, they really aren’t fazed by a 15-degree day in the Lower 48. Check out outstanding pictures of owls.

These Owls Are Active During Daytime

You might expect this of a bird that hails from the land of the midnight sun. Looking for other owl species? Learn how to spot the owl in your backyard trees.

What Does a Snowy Owl Call Sound Like?

Snowy owls don’t have quite as thrilling a hoot as their nocturnal kin. Instead, they make simple, hoarse whoos or excitable squawks that don’t seem to fit their regal bearing. Listen to them at our Macaulay Library site (here’s a hoot and a squawk).

What Do Snowy Owls Eat?

Snowy owls are excellent hunters, and they make the most of the Arctic’s prodigious supplies of lemmings. They pounce on them, take them on the wing, even snatch them from under the snow, finding them by sound alone if they need to. A single adult may eat 300 pounds of lemmings per year, feeding its brood of “owlets” another 1,500 lemmings before they leave home. In winter, some switch to eating ptarmigan and waterfowl. John James Audubon reportedly saw one lying on its belly and catching fish from a rock.

Check out 10 owl shirts every bird fan should own.

Males and Female Snowy Owls Look Different

As with most raptors, females snowy owls are substantially bigger than males. At up to 6.5 pounds, females are the biggest owls by weight in North America. Females are also more heavily barred with black than the males, which get paler throughout their lives. An all-white snowy owl is pretty much always an older male (apologies to Harry Potter, but Hedwig was a male all along.) Learn fun facts about owls in pop culture.

Look for Snowy Owls in Winter

Here’s a confession: I’ve never seen a snowy owl in real life before. But this year maybe my luck will change. By using eBird, a free online checklist program, I can check and see where other bird watchers have seen snowy owls near me.

Learn about Northern saw-whet owls: the cutest owls.

Snowy Owl Video

If you can’t find them outdoors, there’s always the Internet. Check out this video made by my friend Gerrit Vyn, in our Multimedia program, and spend a little quality time with these silent visitors from the great white north. (Oh, and watch the owl pairs, too, to see if you can pick out the smaller, whiter males from the bigger, darker females):

Popular Videos

Stacy Tornio
Stacy Tornio is a freelance writer and author with more than 15 gardening and outdoorsy books. She tries to get as much sunshine as possible and is currently on a quest to see all the national parks in North America.