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Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca)

Snowy Owl


  • The snowy owl is about 60 centimetres (24 inches) long.


  • This owl is easily identified by its white plumage, round earless head and broad white wings.
  • Colour ranges from pure white to white barred with varying amounts of brown to black.
  • Juveniles and females are usually more heavily barred than adult males.
  • Snowy owls migrate from the Arctic to Alberta and the other provinces in winter and return to the Arctic in summer.
  • During winter, snowy owls are distributed throughout Alberta east of the Rockies.
Natural History


  • In the Arctic, snowy owls prefer rolling hills to flat tundra, and use banks, knolls and boulders for lookouts.
  • On their migration south they can often be found perched on fence posts, haystacks and buildings overlooking marshes and open farmland.


  • In the southern regions of its range, the majority of a snowy owl's diet includes:
    • Hares
    • Rabbits
    • Small rodents
  • In the Arctic, prey includes:
    • Hares
    • Lemmings
    • Ptarmigan
  • The numbers of snowy owls are largely dependent upon the rise and fall of the lemming population.

When Active

  • The snowy owl is active during the day.
Reproduction and Growth

Breeding Behavior

  • Five to eight eggs are laid in thinly lined depressions on the ground, preferably on the higher areas of the tundra.
Conservation and Management


The snowy owl is classified as Secure in the General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. See:

Current management

  • Like all birds of prey in Alberta, the snowy owl is protected by the provincial Wildlife Act.
Related links


Page Information

Updated: Jan 8, 2014