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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog

Animal of the Week: Snowy Owl

Some animals have the ability to capture our imaginations, interests, and attention. One such animal is the Snowy Owl. These birds have added some magic in many minds. In the Harry Potter books, Harry's owl was a Snowy Owl. Since these books and movies have come out, it seems like this bird has gained some attention and grown in popularity. Here in Illinois, these birds are just as mysterious, and the fact that they are occasionally seen in Illinois has made them more exciting.

The winter of 2014-2015 saw several Snowy Owls come to Illinois. Birds were seen in numerous spots in the northern third of the state. The high number of sightings is thought to be due to a particularly successful breeding season, and the larger number of birds resulted in an abnormal number of birds migrating further south than they usually do. Some experts are anticipating that the winter of 2015-2016 will be just as exciting for those wishing to see a Snowy Owl.

The Snowy Owl is a very recognizable bird. It is in the owl family and is one of its largest members. They are approximately the size of a Great Horned Owl. They have a round head and do not have "ear" tufts. They appear to have a large bulky body with a wide looking base. This wide base is attributed to their heavily feathered legs.

Snowy Owls are primarily ground dwellers nesting on the ground and spend a great deal of their time sitting on the ground in wide open spaces surveying their surroundings. The Snowy Owls' breeding ground is on the treeless tundra, and they winter from the northern part of Canada to as far south as Southern Illinois. Snowy Owls are white with a variety of black and grey speckling. Though males and females are about the same size, females tend to have more speckling than the males. As males age, they become more and more white. Often males are all white and very distinctive.

In the winter months, you can see Snowy Owls along rivers and lakes. They are also found sitting on or near the ground with lots of open space around them. Look to see them flying near the ground as they stay close to the ground even in flight. This winter keep an eye out for a Snowy Owl. You just might see one near you.

Fun Snowy Owl Facts:

  1. Unlike most other owl species, Snowy Owls are diurnal. They can be active both during the day and night.
  2. Snowy Owl young will disperse over a great area. One nest was reported to have young that went to the Hudson Bay area and to the far eastern Russian coast.
  3. The Snowy Owl is the heaviest North American Owl

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