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snowy owl

snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Left photo © David W. Brewer
Right photo © Rick Remington

Features and Behaviors

The snowy owl averages 20 to 27 inches in length (tail tip to bill tip in preserved specimen). This bird has white feathers with dark flecks. The snowy owl has a large, round head with a circlelike appearance on its flattened face. Its huge, yellow eyes face forward. This bird of prey (meat eater) has a hooked bill and claws to help in capturing and eating its food.

The snowy owl is an Arctic owl that occasionally winters in Illinois, mainly in the northern one-half of the state. When present, it may be seen in prairies, fields, marshes, lake edges, airports, golf courses and cities where it is active during the day. It may perch on the ground or on more elevated objects. Spring migrants leave Illinois in March. In summer, the snowy owl lives in the tundra. Fall migration into Illinois seems to be somewhat dependent on prey population sizes in more northern areas. When the prey population levels are low, there is a better chance for the birds to winter in Illinois. Fall migrants usually appear in November. The snowy owl feeds on small mammals and birds. It usually does not make sounds but may give a “krow-ow” call in the breeding season.

Illinois Range


​Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae

Illinois Status: common, native