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:
This is number 63 in my photo life list, only 287 to go!
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!