My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Snowy Owl, Bubo scandiacus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus

The Snowy Owl  is a large owl of the typical owl family Strigidae. It is one of the largest species of owl and, in North America, is on average the heaviest owl species. The adult male is virtually pure white, but females and young birds have some dark scalloping, the young are heavily barred, and dark spotting may even predominate. Its thick plumage, heavily feathered taloned feet, and coloration render the Snowy Owl well-adapted for life north of the Arctic Circle.

The Snowy Owl is typically found in the northern circumpolar region, where it makes its summer home north of latitude 60 degrees north. However, it is a particularly nomadic bird, and because population fluctuations in its prey species can force it to relocate, it has been known to breed at more southerly latitudes.

This species of owl nests on the ground, building a scrape on top of a mound or boulder. A site with good visibility such as the top of mound with ready access to hunting areas, and a lack of snow is chosen. Gravel bars and abandoned eagle nests may be used. The female scrapes a small hollow before laying the eggs. Breeding occurs in May, and depending on the amount of prey available, clutch sizes range from 5 to 14 eggs, which are laid singly, approximately every other day over the course of several days. Hatching takes place approximately five weeks after laying, and the pure white young are cared for by both parents. Although the young hatch asynchronously, with the largest in the brood sometimes 10 to 15 times as heavy as the smallest, there is little sibling conflict and no evidence of siblicide. Both the male and the female defend the nest and their young from predators, sometimes by distraction displays. Males may mate with two females which may nest about a kilometer apart. Some individuals stay on the breeding grounds while others migrate.

Snowy Owls nest in the Arctic tundra of the northern most stretches of Alaska, Canada, and Eurasia. They winter south through Canada and northern Eurasia, with irruptions occurring further south in some years. Notable is the huge mass southern migration in the winter of 2011/2012, when thousands of Snowy Owls were spotted in various locations across the United States, due to the dramatic drop in the number of lemmings available within the owl’s typical range.

This powerful bird relies primarily on lemmings and other small rodents for food during the breeding season, but at times of low prey density, or during the ptarmigan nesting period, they may switch to favoring juvenile ptarmigan. They are opportunistic hunters and prey species may vary considerably, especially in winter. They feed on a wide variety of small mammals such as meadow voles and deer mice, but will take advantage of larger prey, frequently following trap lines to find food. Some of the larger mammal prey includes hares, muskrats, marmots, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, prairie dogs, rats, moles, and entrapped fur bearers. Birds preyed upon include ptarmigan, other ducks, geese, shorebirds, pheasants, grouse, coots, grebes, gulls, songbirds, and even other raptors, including other owl species. Most of the owls’ hunting is done in the “sit and wait” style; prey may be captured on the ground, in the air or fish may be snatched off the surface of bodies of water using their sharp talons. Each bird must capture roughly 7 to 12 mice per day to meet its food requirement and can eat more than 1,600 lemmings per year.

Snowy Owls, like many other birds, swallow their small prey whole. Strong stomach juices digest the flesh, while the indigestible bones, teeth, fur, and feathers are compacted into oval pellets that the bird regurgitates 18 to 24 hours after feeding. Regurgitation often takes place at regular perches, where dozens of pellets may be found. Biologists frequently examine these pellets to determine the quantity and types of prey the birds have eaten. When large prey are eaten in small pieces, pellets will not be produced.

On to my photos:

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy owl in flight

This is number 63 in my photo life list, only 287 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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16 responses

  1. You have found a snowy owl? Now I’m really jealous. Love how he squints his eyes. it’s like he’s saying don’t bother me..I’m sleeping!

    March 22, 2013 at 10:28 am

    • I didn’t find him, he was around Muskegon last winter, and was known for his willingness to pose for photographers. I just showed up and joined the crowd that was already there. The story was realy quit funny, there was a guy there with at least a 600 mm lens, telling the rest of us to stay back and not bother the owl. After my first set of shots, I went back to my car as it was a bone numbing cold day with a nasty wind to boot. As I sat in my car, I got the flight photos as the guy with the long lens chased the owl around. Oh, I forgot, he was covered in a green camo “blind” in the snow, it was flapping in the wind like crazy, even a blind owl could have seen him.

      March 22, 2013 at 10:37 am

  2. Oh, wow! These are wonderful photos! This bird is one of my favorites… what a gorgeous creature.

    March 22, 2013 at 10:33 am

    • Thank you, they are infrequent visitors to my area, I feel lucky for having seen such a magnificent bird!

      March 22, 2013 at 10:40 am

  3. plantsamazeme

    Your photos of the Snowy Owl are superb! Such a beautiful bird.
    🙂

    March 22, 2013 at 11:45 am

    • Thanks, I wouldn’t say superb, I would say very good given the weather that day.

      March 22, 2013 at 12:58 pm

  4. Great job with these snowy owl shots!

    March 22, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    • Thank you, all things considered, it was a good day!

      March 23, 2013 at 1:10 am

  5. Owls are my favorite birds. They are so beautiful and their call is so haunting and wonderful. Great shots! The story about the guy with the 600 mm was too funny. Some folks just take themselves way too seriously.

    March 22, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    • Thanks, I may dig that old post out and reblog it for newer readers.

      March 23, 2013 at 1:11 am

  6. Wow, those are excellent shots! I’d probably frame the first one and the second one up from the bottom, when he’s in flight.I remember the story about when you got these pictures, but I don’t remember the pictures themselves.That post was hilarious, so I hope you plan to do more like it sometime!

    March 22, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    • Thank you for the wake up call, I have been too serious of late, I need to go looking for some fun!

      March 23, 2013 at 1:12 am

  7. What a GORGEOUS animal… So fortunate you encountered such a willing model! Wild owls are notoriously shy. 🙂 Such amazing creatures…. Beautiful predators.

    March 23, 2013 at 10:28 am

    • Thanks, this owl wasn’t shy at all. I’m thinking of reposting the story of that trip for all my newer readers.

      March 23, 2013 at 10:43 am

  8. Owls are so cool…what a great get!

    March 24, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    • Thank you Lori!

      March 24, 2013 at 8:48 pm