Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus Scientific name definitions

Denver W. Holt, Matt D. Larson, Norman Smith, Dave L. Evans, and David F. Parmelee
Version: 1.0 — Published March 4, 2020

Photos from this Account

Adult male

Large white owl with piercing yellow eyes. Adult males range from pure white to white with a few brown spots.

Adult female/immature

Females/immatures are white with darker barring throughout except on the face, which is always white.

Immature female

Immature females have extensive dark barring throughout and a white face.

Adult female/immature

Large, hefty owl. In flight note all-white underwings and broad wings.

Immature female

Immature females are barred throughout, but note white underwings in flight.

Adult male

Some adult males are entirely white.

Immature female

During the winter in some years Snowy Owls show up farther south than normal, to hunt in fields, dunes, and other open areas.

Immature female

Often found sitting on or near the ground in wide-open areas or perching on rises such as the crests of dunes, fenceposts, telephone poles, or hay bales.

Adult male Snowy Owl, Manitoba, 20 November.

Adult males nearly pure white, sometimes with few faint dark marks.Image via Birdshare: Guy Lichter.

Presumed female Snowy Owl, Wolfe Island, ON, February.

Adult females are very similar to first-winter males, and the two are not safely separable in the field. This bird is fairly white-breasted with rather heavily barred breast sides and belly, suggesting a female. In-hand study of molt patterns would help determine the age.; photographer Gerrit Vyn

First-winter female Snowy Owl in flight, ON, December.

, Dec 15, 2009; photographer Gerrit Vyn

Adult male Snowy Owl, Sturgeon Co., AB, 6 March.

Adult male body plumage entirely white, or nearly white with small, and/or faint black or brown spots or barring.Image via Birdshare: Raymond Lee.

Adult male Snowy Owl in flight, Calgary, AB, 23 February.

Adult male body plumage entirely white, or nearly white with small, and/or faint black or brown spots or barring.Image via Birdshare: Ron Kube.

Presumed first-winter male Snowy Owl, Wolfe Island, ON, January.

It is tempting to think that hard weather forces Snowy Owls farther south than usual in some winters. But in reality the causes of the Snowy Owl 'invasions' are somewhat mysterious, linked either to prey population crashes in the north, high productivity breeding years, or some combination of the two., Dec 15, 2009; photographer Gerrit Vyn

Presumed first-winter female Snowy Owl, Delta, BC, 15 January.

First-winter females are the most heavily marked, being barred black bellow and through the upper breast. The barring on the back, wings, and crown is also dense and dark.Image via Birdshare: Simon Richards.

Juvenile Snowy Owl, North Slope, AK,

Between 5-6 weeks old, prior to fledging, juvenal flight feathers developed enough to show sex-specific differences.Image by Jenny Cunningham.

Juvenile Snowy Owl, North Slope, AK,

After leaving the nest, Snowy Owl chicks can be difficult to find on surrounding tundra, particularly against various shades of black, gray, and white lichens, providing reasonable explanation for sooty-gray coloration. Image by Jenny Cunningham.

Juvenile Snowy Owl, North Slope, AK,

Juvenal Plumage present primarily Jun–Aug, during post-natal dispersal on and near natal territory. Upperparts, greater, lesser and median wing coverts, and underparts downy and dark mouse brown, feathers tipped and speckled grayish white, those of scapulars and mantle less filamentous and faintly barred whitish; facial disk and chin white, the feathers tipped brown.Image by Jenny Cunningham.

Snowy Owl talon detail, MA, December.

Snowy Owls hunt primarily small mammals by capturing them with their strong, fully feathered talons. The legs and feet are densely feathered to help cope with the extreme cold these birds typically face during most of their lives. Craig Gibson's photos can be seen at his website: http://www.birdsoftheair.com/, Dec 28, 2008; photographer Craig Gibson

Female Snowy Owl, Wolfe Island, ON, February.

Female Snowy Owls are generally more heavily marked than males. In immatures the females can be quite heavily barred with black.; photographer Gerrit Vyn

Snowy Owl breeding habitat, Bathurst Island, Nunavut, June.

Snowy Owls favor wide-open expanses of tundra for breeding. During winter they are found in more varied habitats, but perhaps unsurprisingly they still favor open areas frequenting farmlands, beaches, and airports. They generally shun high elevation montane areas., Jun 20, 2008; photographer Gerrit Vyn

Snowy Owl nest and eggs, Barrow, AK, June.

Snowy Owls nest on the ground in barren arctic tundra. , Jun 05, 2006; photographer Gerrit Vyn

Snowy Owl with American Bittern prey, South Jersey, NJ, 15 December.

Snowy Owls are capable of killing a wide range of prey species from small to large mammals and birds during any time of year.Image via Birdshare: B.N. Singh.

Snowy Owl defensive posture, Montrose, IL, 13 December.

Snowy Owl in defensive posture as Peregrine Falcon attacks.Image via Birdshare: SteveJnerChicago.

Snowy Owl yawning, Wolfe Island, ON, February.

Snowy Owls are built for cold weather with heavily feathered legs and feet, and long feathers that conceal most of the bill and mouth. In this photo one can see how large the mouth actually is, capable of swallow small mammals whole.; photographer Gerrit Vyn

Adult male Snowy Owl delivering a collared lemming to a female on the nest.

The female is feeding a chick. Bathurst Island, Nunavut, Canada. June., Jun 25, 2008; photographer Gerrit Vyn

Snowy Owl chicks and eggs in nest, North Slope, AK,

Females brood nestlings, and simultaneously incubate unhatched eggs. Brooding continues, but intermittently, as chick’s age, and depart the nest in order of hatching – at about 3 wk of age. Smaller chicks, and eggs are ‘brooded’ by huddling under mass of larger chicks in nest.Image by Jenny Cunningham.

Adult female Snowy Owl brooding chicks on the nest.

Several collared lemmings, previously delivered by the male lay nearby. Bathurst Island, Nunavut, Canada. June., Jun 25, 2008; photographer Gerrit Vyn

Adult female Snowy Owl in flight, Bathurst Island, NV, June.

Female Snowy Owl returning to nest in flight. The brood patch, an area of bare skin used to warm eggs and chicks, is clearly visible.Image by Gerrit Vyn Photography.

Macaulay Library Photos for Snowy Owl

Top-rated photos submitted to the Macaulay Library via eBird. Note: Our content editors have not confirmed the species identification for these photos.

Recommended Citation

Holt, D. W., M. D. Larson, N. Smith, D. L. Evans, and D. F. Parmelee (2020). Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.snoowl1.01