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Snowy Owl

Bubo scandiacus

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52 - 71cm

1.2 - 1.5m

1.6 - 3kg

8 - 10 yrs

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The snowy owl is a large, white owl of the typical owl family Bubo native to Arctic regions. For this reason, it is sometimes known as the arctic owl, with “scandiacus” being derived from the region of Scandinavia. It has become prominent owl in popular culture after a female snowy owl, Hedwig, was featured in the Harry Potter series.

Vulnerable

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VU

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It is one of the largest species of owl. Its young are typically white with thick black barring; these black feathers gradually recede with age, leaving adult males pure white. Females, however, often retain some of these feathers, making them easy to tell apart. It has thick plumage and densely feathered feet for life in the Arctic Circle.

What Does it Look Like?

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What Does it Sound Like?

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Snowy owl calls are varied, but the alarm call is a barking, almost quacking krek-krek; the female also has a softer mewling pyee-pyee or prek-prek. The song is a deep repeated gahw. They may also clap their beak in response to threats or annoyances. Whilst called clapping, it is believed this sound may actually be a clicking of the tongue, not the beak.

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Due to their harsh environment they are opportunistic, feeding on a variety of both small and large mammals from voles and mice up to hares and raccoons. However, their preferred prey are lemmings, of which a typical snowy owl will eat over 1,500 per year. They wait from a perch until the right moment to strike, then swallow their prey whole.

What Does it Eat?

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Where Does it Nest?

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They nest on the ground from atop a vantage point from which they can hunt with ease. A small hollow is made before 3-11 eggs are laid, one at a time, with the young hatching after 5 weeks. Unlike other owl species, most of these chicks will survive with very little in-fighting despite being at vastly different stages of growth.

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It is mostly confined to the polar regions, nesting in Alaska, Northern Canada and Eurasia. However, they are nomadic and can be forced south due to prey shortages; they are a rare winter visitor to the UK and once bred successfully in the Shetlands. They prefer open areas that appear somewhat similar to tundra, but spend a large amount of time on ice floes.

Where Does it Live?

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What is its Status?

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Once thought of as Least Concern, research suggests its population had been grossly overestimated and is suffering rapid declines. It’s likely that climate change has adversely affected the availability of prey, forcing the owls from their habitat. The situation may be worse than anticipated, with the IUCN considering upgrading their status to Endangered.

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