This owl is only a winter resident in Minnesota. In some years, when the Canadian winter is unusually harsh or food is in short supply, large numbers of owls “invade” Minnesota and can even be seen in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

What They Eat

Lemmings—as many as five a day—are this owl’s food of choice, but other small animals like mice, voles, rabbits, and occasionally birds are also eaten.

Where They Live

These nomadic owls range throughout the open, Arctic tundra of North America, Europe and Asia. In the winter months, they may periodically move further south. The unpredictable migratory movements of snowy owls are thought to be more related to prey abundance, than to seasons or weather.

What They Do

Unlike some owls, snowy owls are active during the day and use their excellent hearing to locate hidden prey, including rodents burrowing beneath the snow.

How They’re Doing

Categorized as “Vulnerable,” snowy owls are undergoing rapid population declines in North America, and probably elsewhere in their range. Although the causes of these declines are unclear, climate change – and its associated impacts on the availability of prey such as lemmings and other small mammals – is a potential cause. Other threats to snowy owl survival include collisions with vehicles, buildings and power lines.

Where in the World

Polar regions of North America, Asia and Europe

Habitat

Tundra and other open areas

Conservation Status

conservationStatus_VU

Animal Facts

Body length: 20-25 inches
Weight: 2 – 6 pounds
Wingspan: 49-65 inches
Lifespan: 10 years in the wild; 28 years in human care

Taxonomic Category

Bird, raptor

Where at the Zoo

Wings Financial World of Birds Show

”Oz” hatched at the African Lion Safari Park in Ontario, Canada on 6 July 2008. He arrived at the Minnesota Zoo in January 2009. Snowy owls are rare in zoos, and exceedingly rare in bird shows. Because snowy owls are sensitive to heat and humidity, trainers knew he would work best as a winter show bird. Oz made his indoor show debut in the early spring of 2010 in the old indoor theater, located where the present penguin habitat exists.

With the construction of the Target Learning Center—the current home for the winter Wings Financial World of Birds Show—Oz had a new home and show space. The first winter in the new space, 2011-2012, Oz remained a highlight of the show for trainers and guests alike. He can now be seen nearly every show of the winter season. When the snow melts and summer returns, Oz gets a seasonal hiatus. He demonstrates low, gliding flights that are typical for ground-dwelling species.

  • As is common with many birds of prey, female snowy owls are larger and heavier than males.
  • Most adult male snowy owls are nearly all white. In contrast, females tend to have more brown speckles and bars mixed with the white.
  • Snowy owls make their nests in a shallow scrape on the ground. A nest contains 3-11 eggs, with the number of eggs depending on prey availability.

With numbers declining in North America and likely decreasing elsewhere across their range, snowy owl populations are categorized as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Although the causes of these declines are unclear, climate change – and its associated impacts on the availability of prey such as lemmings and other small mammals – is a potential culprit. Like other bird species, collisions with vehicles, buildings and power lines may contribute to population trends as well.

As much of the snowy owl range is in remote areas, more comprehensive research is needed regarding owl numbers and population trends.