Monday 11th December 2017
Species Guide
Snowy Owl - Bubo scandiaca


Although not strictly a British Owl; the Snowy Owl was known to have bred in Fetlar, one of the North Isles of Shetland in Scotland, from 1967 to 1975. The Snowy Owl is found in the Arctic tundra from Greenland and Iceland to Northern Canada, Scandinavia, Northern Russia and Siberia.

The Snowy Owl breeds once a year but if food is scarce many will not breed. The female will lay 7 to 10 eggs in May/June Incubation is 32 to 33 days and the young will walk around the nest site at two weeks old. They are flying well at 50 to 60 days.

This owl is very abundant when food is plentiful but may be absent if food is scarce. The biggest threat to this owl is global warming.

The Snowy Owl is a bird of the Arctic tundra and is in fact the largest predatory bird found there. It has now been classed as a member of the Eagle Owl family. It is an occasional visitor to Britain, mainly the far north of Scotland where it bred in the 1970's on the island of Fetlar. No breeding has been recorded since.

The Snowy Owl hunts by day and by night and is a very powerful bird. It has large yellow eyes and unlike most Owls the female is marked differently to the male. The male is almost completely white, whereas the female has black or brown barring on the head, back and wings. These are ground nesting birds and the female spends a long time incubating her eggs and keeping her chicks warm so she must blend in with her surroundings. The male Snowy Owl will draw predators away from the nest site by pretending to be injured, just like the Short-Eared Owl. The Snowy Owls feathers are very dense and tightly packed and they have very heavy feathering on their feet to help protect them from the severe cold.

The diet of the Snowy Owl consists mainly of the lemming but they will also catch rabbits, rodents and birds. When the lemmings are plentiful the Snowy Owl is a prolific breeder. This Owl will travel long distances in search of food if there is a shortage locally.

The Snowy Owl has a slow style of flight and keeps close to the ground when looking for prey. They will also sit still for long periods of time listening for prey.

The Snowy Owl call can vary from a loud whistling to a deep almost barking sound.

Search Species Guide