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Snowy Owls Live Up to Their Name

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

If you take one look at a snowy owl, you can probably guess how they got their name.

snowy owl
Photo via Shutterstock

These snowy-white birds can be a beautiful sight, making them a favorite among bird-watchers.

Snowy owls only live in northern Illinois and other parts of the northern United States in the winter. They migrate here from the Arctic tundra in the far northern parts of Alaska, Canada and Siberia.

We see snowy owls in our area every winter, but some years more snowy owls migrate south than in other years. Last winter, we saw a lot of snowy owls in the northern United States.

Scientists are studying why the number of owls that migrate changes from year to year, but they believe it is related to food supply.

Here’s some more information on these snow-white creatures.

Fun Facts

  • Snowy owls and all other owls are raptors, which is a kind of bird that catches prey. They mostly eat small mammals, birds and fish. Their favorite food is a lemming, which is a kind of rodent that lives in the Arctic tundra.

  • Male snowy owls are more white than females. The female owls have some dark brown barred feathers, while the males tend to have only a few dark-colored spots. Some older male snowy owls are entirely white.

  • Snowy owls are also called Arctic owls, great white owls and snow owls.

  • The female snowy owl sits on her eggs until they hatch, which takes about a month. During this time, her male breeding partner brings her food. Sometimes, if there isn’t a good supply of food, snowy owls will not lay eggs until the food supply improves.

  • Snowy owls are good hunters. They can catch small birds in the air, and they have excellent hearing and vision to help them spot their prey. They can even find prey under heavy snow.

  • We usually think of birds as living in trees, but snowy owls actually prefer wide-open spaces with few or no trees. They even build their nests on the ground. In the winter, they sometimes perch atop tall structures such as utility poles or fences to look for food.

  • Most owls are nocturnal, which means they are active only at night. However, snowy owls are diurnal, which means they are active during the day.

  • Snowy owls have bright yellow eyes, which is the only color on their white faces.


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