Fisheries and Land Resources

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl

Nyctea scandiaca

Status

Snowy owls are native to Labrador above the tree line; winter visitor to Southern Labrador and the Island when food is scarce in the Arctic.

Habitat

This winter visitor of southern Canada hangs out in open fields and on shorelines similar to the treeless tundra.

Range

Breeds in Alaska and northernmost Canada. In winter Snowy Owls across continent south to northern United States, irregularly farther south. Snowy Owls breed north of treeline in Labrador.

Food

The Snowy Owl likes small mammals for its diet. It eats arctic hares and ptarmigan, but its main food are lemmings. When the owl moves south because lemming populations are low they mainly eat meadow voles - up to 300 a month. Also rabbits, dead fish, rats and birds are eaten.

Predators/Threats

The owls' main threat is food shortage. Jaegers in the arctic are known to prey on their nests. There is a high mortality rate (up to 30%) of nestlings.

Lifespan

Up to 35 years in captivity, and in excess of 17 years in the wild.

Appearance

The male is almost pure white. The female is marked with dark brown spots and is larger than the male. They have yellow eyes which can't move; to see they turn their head from side to side up to 270 degrees.

Breeding Biology

A snowy owl may lay up to 10 eggs when food is plenty and none at all when prey numbers such as the lemmings are low. The male provides her with food while she stays on the eggs to protect them and keep them warm.

Average Weight/Measurements

Average weight of females (5 lbs)(2.3 kg) and males (4 lbs)(1.8 kg). Stands almost (1.6 ft)(½) metre tall, with a wingspan of (5 ft)(1.5 m).

Notes:

  • Snowy owls swallow small prey whole as do most other raptors. Strong stomach juices dissolve the flesh. Bones, fur and teeth are compacted then regurgitated. These remains are called pellets.

At Salmonier Nature Park

  • Display birds here are injured birds entered into our rehabilitation program which did not recover to the extent necessary for release. The park has provided similar birds to reputable Canadian zoos.
  • Following crashes in the small mammal population in the High Arctic, Newfoundland experiences a major influx of snowy owls. In one such year (1992), Salmonier Nature Park received 11 snowy owls requiring rehabilitation.
  • Snowy owls have successfully bred in captivity at the Park. In one case, a young owl was sent to a rehabilitator in Ontario, who trained the bird to hunt and then released it to the wild.

 

 
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