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SNOWY OWL. Nyctea scandiaca

IDENTIFICATION. A large white diurnal, day flying, owl with big yellow eyes and a black beak.  Males are considerably whiter than the females, the black striped chest of the female being used as camouflaged on the ground nest. Being a bird of cold climes the feet are feathered right down to the large talons. The scientific name for the Snowy Owl actually means 'night' 'Scandinavia', which is odd seeing as the owl is diurnal.

For its size and rarity there is not a lot it can be confused with.

IN FLIGHT. The Snowy Owl is a powerful flier with long, pointed wings. The flight consists of slow wing beats and long glides that resemble a buzzard Mammals are dropped on from a quartering flight or chased in a fast shallow glide. When hunting birds the Snowy Owl has a surprising turn of speed knocking the prey out of the air. Occasionally some owls can be seen hovering over water, like an Osprey, looking for fish. The males display flight involves a high circling of the nest scrape. 

DISTRIBUTION. In Britain they have been found on Fetlar in the Shetlands and other northern parts of Scotland. Generally they live on the edge of the Arctic, in such places as Canada, Russia and Greenland.

WHEN SEEN. A winter visitor.

FOOD. Mammals ranging from rabbits to lemmings. The occasional bird and even fish which are taken from the water in a similar fashion to that of the Osprey.

BREEDING. April - May. 4-12 eggs, depending on food supply, are laid on a tussock of grass. Young hatch after 33 days, flying 50 -60 days later.

SIZE. 53-66 cm (21-26in)

WEIGHT.  1815g - 2050g (4lb - 4lb 12oz)

CALL. Varies from hissing, squealing, whistling to a rick.


An important thing to remember with Snowy Owls is the fact they come from cold regions. In summer thought must be given to protecting them from the heat of the day.

Not generally used as a hunting bird the Black Kite is often seen as a display flier.

If you are thinking of flying a Snowy Owl, or any, raptor speak to someone who already flies one and can share their . Karen Andriunas of Saker Falconry, says - "Snowy Owls are beautiful birds to look at and fly. However their temperament can be changeable. For someone looking at flying a large owl the European Eagle Owl may be a better proposition. Snowy Owls are also very vocal."

NB. If you buy one of these raptors it should be fitted with a closed leg ring and have an Article 10 form with it (any queries check with DEFRA).

Falconry marks

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