Snowy Owl

A large owl found circumpolar in the northern hemisphere. Similar in size to the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus), the plumage of the snowy owl is primarily white. Males have some light barring or spots of dusky brown. Females and juvenile owls show much more brown barring and spots with some females having only the face and back of neck pure white. Females are significantly larger than males. The ear tufts of this owl are indistinguishable but present.

The eyes seem small for an owl but the brilliant golden irises are striking against the white plumage. The beak and talons are dark in color with long, white feathers nearly covering both. The feathers of the snowy owl are incredibly insulative for the extreme weather conditions of the artic. This species has both extremely acute vision and hearing. Often seen hunting during daylight, this species can visually locate prey at great distances. But excellent hearing allows the snowy owl to acoustically locate prey through deep snow. This species is mostly crepuscular.


Meet our resident Snowy Owls:

Archimedes was hatched under human care in 2000. He was placed in a breeding program in Pennsylvania, but they were never able to find a compatible female, so he was sent to Cascades Raptor Center and joined the Education Team in February 2006.  Archimedes is a Cascades Raptor Center visitor favorite and often greets staff and volunteers he knows with a squeaky tire-like call. After a training session, he rushes over to his human co-worker to accept his dog-toy stuffed with llama wool. 

Adoptive "Parents" of Archimedes:
Mark Durden  •  In memory of Dick Stenard by Stenard/Sabitt Families  •  Steve Leone  •  Karen Heere
Morning Glory Cafe  •  Gina Biancarosa  •  Mandi Tribble & Steven Engel  •  In memory of Bonnie Watson


Scientific Name

Bubo scandiaca formerly Nyctea scandiaca


Length 20 - 27" 
Wing Span 55 - 66"
Weight 58.5 oz. ave.


Length 20 - 27"
Wing Span 55 - 66"
Weight 61.5 oz. ave.


The snowy owl is both state and federally protected. The numbers of birds in the wild are not well known due to their extreme habitat but centuries of taking these birds as trophies and as food items has decreased their numbers.


Open artic terrain from tree line to the polar seas. Prefers high rolling tundra with numerous promontories for perching and nest sites. Areas chosen as habitat by the snowy owl are often more vegetated than surrounding areas due to the additional nitrogen added to the soil by the birds. Habitat choice seems primarily based on prey availability.


Diet consists of lemmings, voles and other small rodents to mammals as large as hares but will also take medium size song birds to medium size geese. Ptarmigan and other open country birds will be targeted as well, especially when plentiful. Snowy owls often pursue prey in a strong, steady flight but they are also known to pounce on prey from perches.


Males are more vocal than females. Call a deep and muffled hoot brooo which is often repeated in a series. When threatened makes a quock, quawk. Females sometimes whistle or make a mewing sound.


Nests on bare ground in shallow holes from sea level to an elevation of less than 300m. These owls prefer a prominent spot with view of their surroundings that is often times windy but snow free. Studies have shown that snow free nest spots correlate highly with nest success for this species. Often prey species will be abundant in the nest site area.

Most Common Problems

This species faces human persecution in most of its range. Humans have been shooting and trapping this species for food and for trophy hunting for centuries. During migration they face threat from hitting cars, electrocution and airplane strike, as one of their favored haunts is the open terrain around airports.

Range Map

Found circumpolar in the northern hemisphere. Primarily found in open terrain of the artic. Breeds into southern Canada and northern United States (Alaska) but winter migrations have periodically brought individuals as far south as central California and the Gulf states. Migratory movements are not well understood but may be related to abundance of prey species (primarily small rodents). Some banded individuals are regular migrants with no correlation to prey cycles.



Special Thanks for range maps:

Dan Gleason
BGleason Design & Illustration
Commercial & Scientific Illustration, Graphic Design
CraneDance Communications
Book Production/Design