Six Awesome Facts About The Snowy Owl

1. Snowy Owls Have an Enormous Range

During the breeding season, snowy owls¬†inhabit the Arctic Circle tundra. Popular breeding sites In North America include the western Aleutians in Alaska, northeastern Manitoba, northern Quebec, and north Labrador in Canada. During the rest of the year, this nomadic bird regularly ranges from latitudes corresponding to Canada’s southern border to the Arctic sea ice. If living on the ice pack, they hunt sea birds in the open ocean. This range can vary quite a bit, however. A mega-irruption, periods when bird counts are unusually higher, occurs every four years. During these periods, owls have traveled to Hawaii, Texas, Florida, Bermuda, Korea, and Japan.

2. Their Feathers Make Them Heavy

Snowy owls have an abundance of feathers to keep them warm, which adds to their weight of around 4 pounds. This thick feathering makes snowy owls the heaviest owl species in North America; they’re a pound heavier than a great horned owl and double the weight of North America’s tallest owl, the great gray owl. Female snowy owls are larger than males, as they’re over 2 feet tall and have wingspans of up to 6 feet.

3. They Follow the Lemmings

While snowy owls eat a wide variety of small mammals and even other birds, their diet consists primarily of lemmings, particularly during the breeding season. An adult snowy owl can eat 1,600 lemmings a year. Because of this, their local numbers rise and fall with that of the lemming population. During times of lemming population booms, they can raise double or triple their usual brood.

4. They Store Their Food

During the breeding season, snowy owls create a cache of prey.3 Females store food the male has brought to the nest, generally in a wreath-like formation around the nest. Typically the stock is 10-15 items, but scientists have recorded as many as 83 carcasses. Additionally, males will create caches at separate perches with around 50 lemmings. These caches provide food during times when hunting is scanty.

5. They Are Not Night Owls

The expression “night owl” originated because of the nocturnal habits of most owls. However, snowy owls don’t fit the mold. They aren’t strictly nocturnal or diurnal. Their activity varies depending on location and the amount of sunlight. The type of prey available in the area also determines when the owl sleeps. This ability to hunt during the daylight is a good thing, since they breed in areas where the sun never sets.

6. They Have Several Different Names

Snowy owls have a variety of names: Arctic owl, ghost owl, Scandanavian night bird, great white owl, the white terror of the north, and Ookpik. These names reflect their appearance and ghost-like silence. Their scientific name is¬†Bubo scandiacus.¬†Until 2004, the snowy owl’s scientific name was¬†Nyctea scandiaca. At that point, genetic evidence indicated that snowy owls’ closest living relative was great horned owls. This resulted in snowy owls, formerly in a genus of their own, getting renamed in the taxonomy. This reclassification is controversial because of the percentage of difference in DNA as well as other differences the owls have from other owls in the¬†Bubo¬†genus. Bubo¬†is the same genus as all other horned owls and the eagle-owls.¬†Scandiacus¬†is a Latinized form of Scandanavia, where taxonomers first noted the owl. Carl Linnaeus, known as the father of modern taxonomy, thought the males and females were different species. He named males¬†Strix scandiaca¬†and females¬†Strix nyctea.

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