Snowy Owl

The Snowy Owl (called Nyctea scandiaca by scientists) is the largest owl in North America. It is about 2 feet tall and weighs 4 pounds. However, its wings are 5 feet long! Male snowy owls are almost completely white and may have small gray specks in their feathers. Females are much darker in color: they can be off-white to almost brownish with many darker-gray spots all over their bodies. The ears of this owl are very special. One earflap is higher than the other and each ear is shaped differently to let the owl focus on where the sound is coming from. Strong hearing lets the owl track and attack its prey even at night--it can pinpoint exactly where noise comes from and then act. The snowy owl has very soft feathers that hide its own noise and keep other animals from finding it.

Snowy owls are found all over North America, especially in northern tundra areas. However, it also lives in open fields and grasslands. Like other types of owls, the snowy owl eats almost only meat. It will use its sharp hooked beak and talons (claws) to attack and cut apart smaller animals such as voles, lemmings, squirrels, rabbits, foxes, and rats. The snowy owl likes to live on its own; it rarely forms groups with other owls or shares food. During the summer they are active during the day but in the darker winter months they hunt mainly at night.

Snowy owls will only breed if there are enough mice as food sources avaliable. They nest in May and June when the female lays one batch of about 10 eggs. The eggs will hatch in 1 month, but young owlets are helpless. The male feeds the young but soon both parents join in. After one year the dark fur of owlets starts to lighten and turn white. They stay with the parents until they can hunt alone.

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