Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiaca) go by a variety of different names: Artic Owl, Great White Owl, Ghost Owl, or my personal favorite, the White Terror of the North! Even their scientific name was a bit up for grabs, as for years they were classified as the sole extant species within the genus Nyctea. But now, thanks to the magic of *science*, they are now classified with the Great Horned Owls within the genus Bubo.

Image from Wikimedia Commons
Snowy Owls are large, diurnal owls that can be found in Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions across the planet. As their name might suggest, they are white birds as adults. Younger birds have some darker coloration, as do the adult females. (In the Harry Potter films, Hedwig was played by a male owl, as the females have more dark spots)

They are a very nomadic species, as in, individual birds do not live in the same area their entire lives. They follow the prey. Many birds also have separate breeding and wintering grounds. Because they breed in open tundras, their nests are built on the group and are vigilantly defended... even from much larger animals like wolves. Because Snowy Owls do not hunt near their nest, other birds species sometimes move in for the protection, as the Owls will drive off other predators in order to protect their eggs.

Snowy Owls hunt by waiting, usually on hills or outcroppings. They sit still until seeing a potential prey object, and they swoop down to capture it either directly from the air, off the ground, or from the water. They feed on small mammals, including hares, voles, and lemmings. Fish, and various bird species are also hunted. After catching their target, they bring it to the ground, flip it over, and break its neck with their beaks to kill it. Snowy Owls will swallow whole anything that they can, but larger prey is torn up and carried off in pieces. When prey is swallow whole and a lot of roughage is consume, more pellets are created.

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