Birds of the Arctic: Snowy Owls

by Sayra I. Garcia, age 13

Snowy owls are beautiful birds that camouflage well with their northern environment.

When one sees the creatures' white feathers, it becomes immediately obvious where the species gets its name. However, females are not fully white. Instead, they are brownish with dark brown spots. Males become whiter as they grow older. The legs and feet of the snowy owl are covered completely by feathers. This species varies in size from 20 to 28 inches and has a wingspan of about 4.2 to 4.8 feet. When a snowy owl flies, its wings make a strong down stroke and upstroke.

These birds usually live in the Arctic in open, treeless areas. They fly south to Canada and the northern side of the United States, Europe, and Asia, but only when food in the Arctic is scarce.

Snowy owls primarily hunt for small rodents, rabbits, birds, and fish. Their favorite prey is the lemming. They sit on or near the ground and on short posts, where they wait patiently for their prey. Snowy owls also have great eyesight; however they catch their meals by heavily relying on their keen hearing ability. When they hear or see their prey, they fly down and use their sharp claws to capture it.

Snowy owls can lay up to 11 eggs or more. The female sits on her eggs to keep them warm and safe, and the male makes sure his mate is well fed. When the baby owls hatch, they are born with white feathers. As time passes, new feathers replace the old ones and the baby owls become light brown. If food is scarce, the snowy owls will not lay eggs.

Snowy owls are unique creatures and an important part of the Arctic ecosystem.

[Source: National Geographic Kids]

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