Snowy owls, unlike most owls, hunt for prey during daylight hours. Native to Canada, the northern United States and northern Europe, these highly nomadic birds inhabit grasslands and open tundra. Their white feathers camouflage them against the snow. Both males and females of the species aggressively defend their nests and territory, even attacking wolves who get too close.
The female snowy owl is slightly larger than the male of the species. Males grow up to 25 inches long, while females reach up to 27 inches. Likewise, the female of the species weighs 1 pound or so more than the male. The wingspan of both male and female snowy owls ranges from 54 to 65 inches.
All juvenile snowy owls are brown and covered in bars of darker plumage. Male feathers grow lighter as the owl matures, and adult male snowy owls may be completely white. Females remain distinctly barred over their entire bodies, and have as many as six darker bands on their tails. Males may have up to three tail bands.
Snowy owls rarely vocalize except during mating season. The female call is higher pitched than the male’s, although the vocalizations are similar in character. Female snowy owls rarely hoot. Both males and females are highly territorial. The female defends territory she has staked out during the winter months. When mating season starts in the spring, the males defend the breeding grounds.
A male kills and displays prey to impress his chosen mate, and may feed her. The female incubates five to eight eggs while the male brings her food and guards the nest. When the nestlings are born, both male and female snowy owls will feed and tend to them. The snowy owl is monogamous, but research is conflicting as to whether a pairing would last beyond one breeding season, according to the Nashville Zoo.
Jennifer Mueller began writing and editing professionally in 1995, when she became sports editor of her university's newspaper while also writing a bi-monthly general interest column for an independent tourist publication. Mueller holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Juris Doctor from Indiana University Maurer School of Law.