Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Snowy owl

Nyctea scandiaca

Photo by Franck Renard (Internet Bird Collection)

Common name:
snowy owl (en); coruja-das-neves (pt); harfang des neiges (fr); búho nival (es); schnee-eule (de)

Order Strigiformes
Family Strigidae

This species breeds in the northernmost areas of Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland. They migrate south to winter as far south as the northern United States, Iceland, the Baltic states, northern Kazakhstan, Mongolia and extreme northern China.

These large owls are 51-71 cm long and have a wingspan of 125-170 cm. They weigh 1,1-3 kg.

The snowy owl is mostly found in tundra grasslands, also using bogs, marshes, saline pools and pastures. They are present from sea level up to an altitude of 300 m.

They mainly hunt lemmings and other small rodents, but also other mammals such as rabbits, hares, squirrels, prairie dogs and moles, and birds such as ptarmigans, pheasants, coots, gulls, songbirds and even short-eared owls Asio otus.

Snowy owls breed in May-September. They are mostly monogamous, although polygyny as been recorded on occasions. The nest is built by the female, consisting of a shallow scrape in the turf or on bare ground, with no lining. The female lays 3-11 white eggs, which she incubates alone for 32-34 days while being fed by the male. The chicks are fed by both parents and leave the nest about 25 days after hatching, but only fledge at 50-60 days of age.

IUCN status - LC (Least Concern)
This species has a very large breeding range and the global population is estimated at over 300.000 individuals. The population is believed to be stable but the snowy owl is known to suffer mortality from collisions with vehicles and power lines, and electrocution.

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