The snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus) - sometimes referred to as the Arctic owl - is a beautiful and fascinating bird. Unlike many species, these owls can withstand rather extreme winter conditions. Its breeding and wintering ranges are farther north than any other owl.
Snowy owls live and nest in Arctic tundra habitats around the North Pole. During winter, the owls are also found throughout Canada and the northern United States. Scandinavia, the British Isles, and central Russia are other areas snowy owls may potentially overwinter.
The range of the snowy owl is unique and does not offer the average person many viewing opportunities. Observing this magnificent bird is not impossible though. Read on to discover more about the snowy owl’s habitat and where you may have an opportunity to see one in the wild!
Snowy Owl in flight over a field in Ottawa, Canada
The snowy owl is a circumpolar species. Their distribution range consists mainly of the northernmost regions around the North Pole. They can be found from roughly 60⁰ to 82⁰ N latitude during the breeding season. In North America, these regions include the Aleutians, Coastal Alaska, the Canadian Arctic Islands, and northern areas of the Canadian Territories, such as Yukon and Quebec.
Snowy owl breeding ranges in Europe and Asia cover Greenland, the northernmost regions of other Scandinavian countries, and Russia. They are suspected to nest (at least historically) on the Shetland Islands of the United Kingdom as well.
The owls' wintering range includes territory south of where the birds typically breed. The snowy owl can potentially be seen throughout northern continental Europe and central Russia. They are also irregularly observed in Iceland and the British Isles.
In North America, it is common for the snowy owl to migrate into southern Canada and the Northern United States - particularly the New England states and around the Great Lakes.
Snowy Owls are mostly found in the northernmost regions around the North Pole
Arctic tundra is the habitat of the snowy owl. Within the tundra, snowy owls will live anywhere with ample prey - near lakes, rivers, and marshes. The birds prefer open, rolling tundra with high points for nesting and perching. They often nest near a water source, such as an Arctic sea.
In winter, snowy owls will migrate to habitats reminiscent of the tundra. Such places can include open coastal areas and dunes, marshes, grasslands, and even agricultural fields. These birds are also known to winter on sea-ice in the Arctic.
It is extremely rare to see a snowy owl considering the birds spend most of their lives in the remote Arctic tundra. However, it is not impossible to observe one in their wintering ranges, especially in Canada and the Northern United States.
Snowy Owls are quite rare to see
Snowy owls frequent the northeastern United States in the winter. They can be found resting or hunting in open fields and tundra-like areas of New York and New England. These owls also irregularly visit the Midwest and Pacific Northwest regions of the US.
Though less common, snowy owls have been observed as far south as Oklahoma or Florida. Such an occurrence likely only happens when food sources are scarce due to an uptick in the owl's population.
Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) flying over tundra of Barrow, Alaska, United States
Snowy owls can be found year-round in Arctic regions of northern Canada, in the high, rolling tundra where they nest. These birds frequently remain in their breeding grounds during the winter but can also be found throughout the Canadian Territories.
A snowy owl landing on a post in winter in Quebec, Canada
At one time, snowy owls were known to breed on the island of Fetlar, in the Shetland Isles. Today, this owl is only an irregular visitor to Shetland, islands in the Outer Hebrides, and the Cairngorms.
Snowy owls are most common in the Arctic tundra regions of North America, Scandinavia, and Russia. These regions are where the birds breed and spend most of their lives. Within their winter ranges, the owls are common throughout southern Canada and the northern United States.
Snowy Owl hunting over a field
The best place to see a snowy owl is in the Arctic tundra regions of North America, Scandinavia, and Russia - regions many people never have the opportunity to venture into. However, if you are keen on seeing one of these magnificent snowy birds without traveling to the North Pole, it is not entirely out of the question.
In North America, the snowy owl is a frequent winter visitor to southern Canada and the New England states in the US. They may also winter on the Shetland Islands north of Scotland or the Cairngorms. Russia and regions of China fall within the bird's wintering range as well.
Keep an eye out for them in habitats similar to the tundra environments of which they are so well adapted, such as open plains and coastal dunes. They may be perched on a fence or low shrub but are more often ground dwellers.
Snowy owl calling
Snowy owls have wintering ranges throughout the Canadian territories and in the northern United States, particularly in New England, but may also winter in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. The birds are occasionally seen as far south as Oklahoma, but this occurrence is far rarer.
Snowy owls are fond of being near open water and are also known to winter by the Bering Sea, sometimes on pack ice. They have winter ranges in the Shetlands Isles, continental Europe, and central Russia as well. Although, the bird's presence in Europe is irregular at best.
When food sources are plentiful, it is not uncommon for the snowy owl to winter in its northern breeding ranges. The owls are built for cold climates and can withstand harsh Arctic winters as long as they have enough food to keep their energy levels up.
Snowy owl perched having a rest
Snowy owls live in Arctic tundra regions around the North Pole during the summer. They often nest near open water, such as an Arctic sea. Common breeding ranges include the Canadian Arctic Islands, the Aleutians, Coastal Alaska, Scandinavia, and Northern Russia.
These owls are sometimes nomadic throughout the summer. Because these birds are largely dependent on high populations of small rodents, such as lemmings and voles, they concentrate on areas with greater food density.
Like other owl species, snowy owls are nocturnal and, thus, are most active at night. The owls will spend most of the day resting in one spot. Then, at dusk, they will begin their nightly hunting routine.
Snowy owl on the ground in the snow
Snowy owls do not live in Florida. However, they do make a rare appearance there. These birds occasionally fly farther south when food sources are more scarce due to a rise in their population.
Snowy owls have been observed wintering as far south as Lancing, Michigan. They are not an uncommon visitor to this region. Areas near the Great Lakes are reminiscent of their tundra habitats.
Snowy owls can occur in Pennsylvania during the winter. Only a handful are observed each winter, however. These Arctic dwelling birds tend to winter farther north in the United States.
Snowy owls live in the Northern Hemisphere. They prefer the Arctic tundra habitat of northernmost North America, Scandinavia, and Russia.
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