Bird Cams FAQ: Snowy Owl Nest

September 1, 2010
Snowy Owl from the birdcam
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Answers to your questions about the Snowy Owl nest. If you’re looking for the answer to a specific question, type control-F (command-F on a Mac) and start typing in your search terms to quickly find the answer.

About This Nest

Where is the nest located?
How many nests are there in the area?
How long have the owls nested in this location?
Do you know how long these owls have been mates?
How can you tell which one is female and which one is male?
How old are the adults at the nest?
Do the owls have names?

Natural History

How big are Snowy Owls?
Do they mate for life?
How do they choose a mate?
How old are Snowy Owls when they first begin nesting?
Do both parents sit on the nest?
Doesn’t the female get hungry while she sits on the nest all day and night?
How big is their territory? How far do they travel to find food?
What do they eat?
How much do they need to eat?
Are there many lemmings this year?
Do they only hunt at night?
How do they hunt?
Do they eat the bones too?
That bird just threw up. Is it sick?
Do owls have teeth?
What’s the white film that you sometimes see over the bird’s eye?
Why is the poop white?
How do they get water?
Do they sleep?
Do Snowy Owls have a sense of smell?
How well can they see?
How well can they hear?
What kinds of sounds do they make?

Nests and Eggs

Do Snowy Owls build a nest?
How many eggs do Snowy Owls lay?
When were the eggs laid?
How long does it take for the egg to hatch?
How big are the eggs?
No one is sitting on the eggs or young. Won’t they get cold?
What is “pipping”?
When the chick is still in the egg, how does it get air to breathe?

Chicks

Which parent sits on the nest with the young?
Which parent feeds the young?
When did the chicks hatch?
I can see eggshells; does the female not remove them?
Are the chicks males or females?
How can you tell the individuals apart?
Do the chicks have names?
Are you going to band the chicks?
How big are the chicks?
Won’t the babies get smothered from the parents sitting on them?
The chicks seem hungry. Why haven’t the parents fed them?
Why is that big one picking on that little one?
Will all the young make it?
Why doesn’t the Cornell Lab or the Owl Research Institute take the small chicks out of the nest and rear them so that they don’t die?
When will the chicks leave the nest?
Why do the chicks leave the nest so early?
When do the chicks get adult plumage?
Do the parents feed the young birds after they leave the nest?
When are the young Snowy Owls able to fly?
Where do the young go during the winter?
How do the nestlings get water?

More facts

How long have Snowy Owls been here?
Where do Snowy Owls live?
How many Snowy Owls are there?
How long do they live?
How many young do they have in their lifetime?
What predators are threats to Snowy Owls?
What other dangers do Snowy Owls face?
Do Snowy Owls migrate?
Are Snowy Owls aggressive? How do they attack?
Where can I see a Snowy Owl?
What can I do to help Snowy Owls?
What research is being carried out by the Owl Research Institute?
What caused the Snowy Owl Irruption in the Northeast and Great Lakes states in the winter of 2013–2014?

Camera

Does the camera bother the birds?
How long will the camera stay on?
What type of camera is being used?

FAQs About This Nest

Where is the nest located?

The nest is located in Barrow, Alaska, and is part of the Owl Research Institute’s 22-year study on the breeding ecology of Snowy Owls and brown lemmings. With 24 hours of sunlight in the Arctic when the owls raise their young, you can tune in any time day or night to watch the nest! The nest is on the ground, atop mounds that are 1–3 feet high on the Arctic tundra.

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How many nests are there in the area?

This year there are at least 20 nests in an area of about 100 square miles.

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How long have the owls nested in this location?

Snowy Owls may use the same scrape repeatedly over many seasons; however, scientists have no indication that a male and a female form a pair for more than one season.

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Do you know how long these owls have been mates?

The history of this particular pair is unknown. Scientists at the Owl Research Institute and collaborators are taking DNA samples to identify individuals across years. To obtain the DNA, they collect feathers shed by the female at the nest. They also collect feathers from the chicks and from male Snowy Owls at roosts where they leave behind feathers from their molt.

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How can you tell which one is female and which one is male?

Adult males are generally whitest overall, sometimes lacking barring altogether. Adult females and first-year males are difficult to distinguish, and there is some plumage overlap. First-year females are the most heavily barred, usually having barred upper breasts and crowns.

The definitive plumage is largely white, more or less barred and spotted with dusky blackish-brown. Ear tufts are indistinct or rudimentary. Eyes are rather small (for an owl) with conspicuous golden irises. Feathers nearly conceal the bill. Toes and claws are partly concealed by thick feathers. Ageing and sexing of Snowy Owls is generally not safely accomplished in the field. In-hand examination of flight feather molt patterns can help give an indication of age.

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How old are the adults at the nest?

Their age is unknown. The maximum known age of Snowy Owls in the wild is 9 years and 5 months. A captive bird in Switzerland lived for at least 28 years.

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Do the owls have names?

No. In different countries the species is also known as the Snow Owl, Okpik, Ghost Owl, or the Scandinavian Nightbird.

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Natural History

How big are Snowy Owls?

The Snowy Owl is a large owl, similar in size to the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). Males are 11–23 inches high whereas females are 22–26 inches high. Their wingspan is more than 5 feet. Males weigh 1.5–5.5 pounds; females weigh 2–6.5 pounds. Snowy Owls have thick feathers for insulation, making them North America’s heaviest owl. Some scientists think that females have larger bodies to store more fat for motherhood. A larger body retains more heat for incubating eggs and brooding the young.

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Do they mate for life?

Snowy Owls are mostly monogamous, with only a few reported exceptions. One male bred, successfully fed, and defended 2 females; all 15 young produced by the 2 females fledged. Matings of one male with 2 females have also been recorded. Conversely, a female may mate with two males simultaneously. Mate fidelity is poorly understood. Observations suggest that Snowy Owls have a weak pair bond, unlike many other owls. There is no indication that a male and a female form a pair for more than one season.

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How do they choose a mate?

Little is known about how Snowy Owls choose mates. Pairs may form on the breeding grounds or on the wintering grounds in the northern Great Plains. Incipient courtship activities occur as early as midwinter in southern Alberta, Canada. Whether pairs actually bond there and arrive together on the breeding ground is debatable. Presumably the male establishes the territory and the female initially selects the nest site, but more study is needed.

Males perform courtship flights to attract females, flying in an exaggerated undulating pattern above the female as she sits on the ground. The male holds his wings in a V shape above the body; this shape helps him lose altitude, dropping lower. Then with rapid wing strokes, he quickly regains altitude and repeats the process.

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How old are Snowy Owls when they first begin nesting?

It takes at least two years before they begin nesting.

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Do both parents sit on the nest?

Only females incubate the eggs and care for the young. Males provide food to the female during the nest period. Males also defend the chicks from predators (and researchers). Females occasionally engage in attacks, but their nest defense duties are different, more passive with screaming and distraction displays.

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Doesn’t the female get hungry while she sits on the nest all day and night?

The male delivers prey to the female during the time she is incubating the eggs and brooding the young chicks.

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How big is their territory? And how far do they travel to find food?

Scientists believe that the territory of this pair is fairly small; the male is usually within 500 yards of the nest at all times (balancing foraging with defending the nest).

Snowy owls are territorial and are often vocal and aggressive when defending their territory and young, sometimes striking humans and even wolves that stray near nests. Territorial behavior has also been observed among wintering Snowy Owls within a small area. During daylight, owls maintain territories by vocalizations accompanying agonistic displays, chases, and even attacks. Intrusions elicit high-pitched, drawn-out screams from a resident owl (“territorial screaming display”), accompanied by a territorial hooting display. At maximum display the owl holds its tail nearly perpendicular to the ground. Flying intruders elicit stronger responses than perched owls.

In years when lemmings are scarce, the males will expand their territory size so they can forage greater distances.

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What do they eat?

Snowy Owls mostly prey on rodents such as lemmings. Their diet also includes voles; often birds (ranging from small songbird nestlings to medium-sized geese); sometimes rabbits and other small mammals; fish and other small aquatic animals less often. They probably capture prey opportunistically but probably specialize when local prey are abundant. When lemmings are scarce or absent, Snowy Owls consume a wide variety of prey. During a nine-year study in Scotland’s Shetland Islands, rabbits were the preferred prey, but when rabbits were less abundant, waders and other birds formed a major part of the diet.

Snowy Owls will cache surplus lemmings at perches apart from the nests. As many as 26 uneaten carcasses have been found! The function of the perch cache is not clear. Some scientists speculate that procuring many lemmings could help bring the female into breeding condition.

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How much do they need to eat?

Wild owls are estimated to require more than 14 ounces per day. According to one estimate, a wild owl would eat 3,000 to 5,000 Microtus (voles) in a year, amounting to 132–330 pounds.

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Are there many lemmings this year?

According to scientists at the Owl Research Institute, 2014 seems to be a decent year for lemmings in Barrow, Alaska. In better years, Snowy Owls bring to the nest lots of male lemmings that are relatively heavy, weighing 3-4 ounces. In scarce years, the owls bring in fewer male lemmings, with both males and females weighing about 2.5 ounces or less. In 2014, the owls are eating a lot of birds, which is good evidence that lemmings are moderate at best.

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Do they only hunt at night?

Differing from most owls in being active mostly by day, Snowy Owls hunt in all weather during winter and the continuous light of Arctic summer, at times consuming more than 1,600 lemmings a year.

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How do they hunt?

Snowy Owls commonly pursue prey through flight and capture in the air, on the ground, and on the water. They also pounce on prey from a perch or while standing or walking. Several times, John James Audubon observed a Snowy Owl catching fish while lying belly down on a rock beside a water hole. The owl devoured small fish near the hole but carried the larger ones away.

Of 51 hunts observed in southern Alberta, Canada, scientists recorded Snowy Owls using the “sit-and-wait” technique 50 times and hovering only once. The overall success rate was 43 percent. Adult females were significantly more successful than juvenile females. Juveniles are also inept at handling prey.

On Baffin Island in Canada, Snowy Owls hunt in all weather and at all hours during the continuous summer light, although they are seemingly less active around noon and midnight.

On Greenland, they hunt mostly in early morning and late afternoon. More observations on foraging times are needed for both breeding and nonbreeding periods. It is not known if these owls hunt at night, or even by moonlight, during winter darkness.

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Do they eat the bones too?

Hungry owls eat lemmings and mice head first, swallowing them in one gulp. After eating the first few prey whole, they may begin to carefully pick and eat additional prey in small pieces, starting at the head. Often before eating, owls look at prey, raising the head higher and standing high on the feet before making the first bite. After feeding, they sometimes wipe their bills and faces, often using snow while cleaning.

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That bird just threw up. Is it sick?

You probably observed it regurgitating or “casting” a pellet. When an owl swallows a prey item whole, indigestible parts of prey, such as fur, bone, and tough insect parts, form a pellet in a muscular area of the stomach called the gizzard.

Adults and young eject pellets after stretching the head and neck and gaping the bill widely.

Although the nest is fairly clean throughout the egg-laying period, it becomes increasingly soiled after the young hatch as the birds defecate, cast pellets, and leave a surplus of decaying lemming carcasses. Vegetation if present is much reduced, but plants quickly grow again in the richly manured ground, judging by layers of pellets from different nestings. The pellets contribute to the bulk and composition of the turf.

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What’s the white film that you sometimes see over the bird’s eye?

Birds have what is known as a nictitating membrane or “third eyelid.” This is a clear eyelid, closest to the eyeball. It is transparent and can close and protect the eye when hunting.

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Do owls have teeth?

Like all birds, owls do not have teeth. Owls swallow food whole or rip it apart with their beak and swallow pieces.

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Why is the poop white?

Bird poop is actually brown. The white pasty excrement is uric acid, the equivalent to a mammal’s urine. Mammals excrete waste as urea dissolved in urine; birds excrete it as uric acid, which has a low solubility in water, and so it comes out as a white paste.

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How do they get water?

Snowy Owls get most of the water that they need from eating their prey. It is not known if owls can substitute snow for water.

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Do they sleep?

Yes. When asleep they will close their eyes.

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Do they have a sense of smell?

Virtually nothing is known about their sense of smell. Traditionally, scientists assumed that most birds have a poor sense of smell because the area of a bird’s brain involved in smell is relatively small compared with the area found in mammals. However, recent research reveals that some species of birds have a high number of active genes that are associated with smell. Scientists have also discovered that some species of birds can tell each other apart by smell. So, though we don’t have all the details, and no specific studies have been conducted on Snowy Owls, they probably do have some ability to smell.

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How well can they see?

Snowy Owls appear to have extraordinary vision in locating and catching prey.

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How well can they hear?

Snowy Owls are adept at hearing, judging by birds’ ability to locate lemmings in turf and snow.

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What kinds of sounds do they make?

The males call with a loud, booming hoo, hooo; when disturbed, a rapid, kre-kre-kre. Hoots are described as a local hoo, hoo, usually double, but sometimes six or more, the last often the loudest, with 1- or 2-second intervals after each. Variants include a deep hoo, and a long drawn-out hooooo. Hoots are sometimes thought to have a ventriloquial quality; they seem to come from high in the air or from the ground. The calls of Snowy Owls can carry long distances (heard up to 7 miles away by researchers). One study revealed that males hoot not only from the ground or a perch, but also commonly during flight. Hooting is loudest during territorial defense.

Females call using whistles and mews, which occur before and after feeding by the male, as well as when attempting to distract a predator from the nest or in mating. Females have been recorded uttering a crowed ca-ca-oh during attacks.

Both males and females hiss when threatened. Although chicks cheep soon after hatching, they do not begin hissing until about two weeks old.

A juvenile call seldom reported is a shrill squeal given by unfledged owlets that have left the nest and are dispersed over the tundra. It’s a perplexing experience for a human to hear these rending screams from multiple hiding places if they don’t realize what is making these sounds. Probably this call helps the male find his scattered young so he can drop off freshly killed lemmings.

Males are generally much more vocal than females, at least during nesting. This difference may be related to the male’s role in defending the nest and territory.

As with many owl species, Snowy Owls snap their mandibles loudly when threatened. Owlets only 8 to 10 days old make this sound when handled.

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Nests and Eggs

Do Snowy Owls build a nest?

They build their nests on the ground on windswept hummocks and boulders in the Arctic barrens. They prefer high points such as mounds to watch for predators. Good nest sites have a sufficient food supply, are free of snow and safe from flooding, and have a commanding view of the surroundings. Observations suggest that the female alone constructs the nest. On turf or bare ground, she scratches out a scrape with her claws. She moves about and even twirls until she forms a distinct but shallow hollow. She does not add any feathers or vegetation for insulation, although these materials may happen to fall into the depression.

Snowy Owls nest from near sea level to inland mountain slopes, but usually much lower than 984 feet in elevation, except in Norway where lemmings occur only on mountains at more than 3,280 feet. In North America, the owls prefer high rolling tundra with numerous promontories that serve as perches and nest sites.

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How many eggs do Snowy Owls lay?

The average is 4–8 eggs. When food is abundant, Snowy Owls may have up to a dozen young per nest. Where food is scarce, they may refrain from breeding for a year or more. The eggs are white and laid asynchronously one every 2–3 days.

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When were the eggs laid?

Seven eggs were laid around mid-May 2014.

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How long does it take for the eggs to hatch?

It usually takes around 31–33 days for the eggs to hatch.

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How big are the eggs?

Eggs measure 2.2 x 1.8 inches. In a clutch of seven eggs, each weighed about 1.6 ounces. The mass of all the eggs in the nest is equivalent to 25–43 percent of the female’s body mass—a significant physiological achievement that is exceptional for large owls and large raptors in general.

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No one is sitting on the eggs or young. Won’t they get cold?

Females begin incubating immediately after laying the first egg. The female alone incubates; there are no records of male Snowy Owls incubating eggs. Females incubate more intermittently toward the end of the incubation period. Throughout the egg-laying period, the male guards the site.

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What is “pipping”?

“Pipping” is when the chick initially breaking through the shell, using a hard projection on its bill called the egg tooth. The resulting hole is the “pip” that the chick then enlarges to finish hatching.

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When the chick is still in the egg, how does it get air to breathe?

Oxygen gets into the egg through pores in the shell. Owl chicks may take more than 12 hours to make their way out of the egg after pipping. They get their first big gulp of air when they pierce the membrane of the egg under the shell. Once they pip, they keep their bill close to the pip and the growing crack they’re working on.

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Chicks

Which parent sits on the nest with the young?

Only the female Snowy Owl incubates the eggs and broods the young. She has a specialized “brood patch” of bare skin that helps warm the eggs and young.

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Which parent feeds the young?

The male delivers prey to the female. Newly hatched young may eat partially digested food from the adult. For the first 2 days, the female feeds her owlets the soft parts of lemmings, including heart, liver and testes, which she tears out and feeds in small pieces. When the young are about 5 days old she may give them parts containing bones; when they are about 10 days old she may feed partially dissected lemmings. Some week-old owlets already bring up long pellets of lemming fur and bones. Although the owlets are capable of handling their own food when they are 14 days old, most feed themselves very little. The female may cast up pellets that she feeds directly to the larger nestlings. After leaving the nest, the young handle undissected lemmings and other prey. The male feeds them, at least until the female abandons the nest.

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When did the chicks hatch?

The mean incubation period is 31–33 days. In 2014, seven eggs hatched around mid-June 2014, the first egg hatching close to June 6. By June 29 all seven eggs had hatched.

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I can see eggshells; does the female not remove them?

Females apparently give no assistance during hatching. There is no evidence that she carries away eggshells. Some pieces of shell are trampled into the ground within the nest scrape or close by.

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Are the chicks males or females?

Without DNA testing, it’s almost impossible to tell. The young resemble the female; white with dark bars or spots.

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How can you tell the individuals apart?

When they are young, the oldest is usually the biggest, and the youngest, the smallest.

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Do the chicks have names?

No.

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Are you going to band the chicks?

Scientists in Barrow, Alaska, have banded 700 Snowy Owls during the past 23 years. They are planning to band the owlets when they are bigger. Banding the birds allows the Owl Research Institute and others to gather little-known information on the owls’ movements. Researchers fit a numbered band on the owl’s leg. When the owl flies to a new location, such as during migration, another scientist may capture the owl again and read the number on the band. They can then look up where the bird has come from and report back to the Institute. Scientists in Barrow, Alaska, found one owl that was originally banded in Russia!

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How big are the chicks?

In one study, weights of 7 newly hatched Snowy Owl chicks ranged from 1.2–1.9 ounces, with a mean of 1.6 ounces. Research indicates that some chicks increase their weight by 60–70 percent in a day. Nearly all grow rapidly up to the third day, but growth decreases thereafter, falling to about 20 percent by the eighth day, and to about 6 percent in the fourth week. Some 28-day-old young weigh 2.9–3.5 pounds.

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Won’t the babies get smothered from the parents sitting on them?

The parents don’t sit down on the owlets hard enough to smother them. The young owls can breathe even when their parents are brooding them.

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The chick seems hungry. Why haven’t the parents fed it?

Some siblings do not always gain body mass equally suggesting the female feeds them unequal portions of food and that there may be competition among siblings. On the other hand, the successful departure from a nest by all siblings indicates that uneven growth rates matter little when sufficient food is available.

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Why is that big one picking on that little one?

This is a natural, well-documented behavior for nestlings of some bird species, including Snowy Owls. In some cases, the aggression may be a way for the birds to tussle and hone their skills, such as when kittens or puppies in a litter tumble about and fight. In other cases, especially when food is scarce, aggression may result from competition for food. Usually the older siblings are bigger and may peck the younger siblings. During food shortages, the older chicks may be the only ones to survive. Aggression toward one another usually disappears within two weeks of hatching.

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Will all the young make it?

There is a chance not all of the nestlings will make it. Many of the nests in the area have lost their youngest chicks in large part because of starvation. During food shortages, intense aggression may result in one sibling killing the other. Unfortunately, on this nest, 3 chicks have died. The two youngest chicks died shortly after hatching, most likely as a result of starvation. They were probably fed to the other chicks by the female. By July 6 a third chick was also lost.

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Why doesn’t the Cornell Lab or the Owl Research Institute take the small chicks out of the nest and rear them so that they don’t die?

The owls in this nest are wild birds. In the wild, bird nests often fail because of starvation, predation, weather conditions, and other events. The Bird Cams enable us to witness nature and are not intended to interfere with nature.

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When will the chicks leave the nest?

Although some owlets leave the nest and wander when only 14 days old, some of them apparently return to the nest one or more times before abandoning it for the last time. A final departure date of 25–26 days seems reasonable; many days pass before even these late-departing young fledge. Under the care of both parents, the scattered young sometimes reconvene and band together.

Snowy Owls become independent faster than other large birds of prey. This is thought to be an adaptation to their Arctic habitat where summers are short and the first snows fall in September.

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Why do the chicks leave the nest so early?

Dispersing from the nest helps the young hide from predators easily, keeping low in the grassy vegetation.

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When do the chicks get adult plumage?

When the young first depart the nest they still have their downy feathers. They spend a month on the ground close to the nest, during which time their appearance changes quickly. Plumage around the eyes and beak turns lighter. Black and white speckled wing covert feathers become noticeable. Flight and tail feathers grow daily. By the time they are six weeks old, the young start looking like adults with black speckles and some remaining downy plumage, mainly on the head. The tail feathers take longer to develop than the flight feathers. Once these are developed the young should be able to start flying. By the second year, the plumage has many features typical of adults.

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Do the parents feed the young birds after they leave the nest?

Once the young leave the nest when they are about 25 days old, they are fed entirely by the parents for at least another five weeks. Then they begin to hunt for themselves. They are probably partly fed for at least another week or two while they are still poor at hunting. During the five weeks after leaving the nest, an owlet eats roughly 15.4 pounds of lemmings. Including lemmings eaten in and out of the nest; a brood of nine owlets will have consumed as many as 1,500 lemmings by the time they reach independence.

By September the young owls start to become fully independent. They may initially stay in close proximity to each other, but start to gradually spend more time apart and on their own. They hunt independently by the time they are two months old. Hunting skills are thought to be learned from watching the parents hunt nearby.

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When are the young Snowy Owls able to fly?

Snowy Owls are able to lift off the ground about three weeks after departing the nest. They spend several days jumping around. Most fledglings are 6–7 weeks old before they make their first real flight.

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Where do the young go during the winter?

The entire family will fly to wintering grounds in the winter months. It is unknown if they travel there separately or as a family group. Their winter range typically extends from central Canada across the Northern United States; however they have been seen as far South as Florida! The scarcity of prey or the overabundance of young owls after a boom year may drive occasional movements far south of their normal range.

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How do the nestlings get water?

While in the nest, the nestlings get water from the prey that they are fed.

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More Facts

How long have Snowy Owls been here?

This owl is probably the oldest bird species recognizable in prehistoric cave art. Nyctea scandiaca remains have been recovered from prehistoric Pleistocene deposits in North America in Alaska (Cape Prince of Wales), Little Kiska Island, St. Lawrence Island, and Illinois; also from European prehistoric sites: England, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Austria, and Hungary.

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Where do Snowy Owls live?

Snowy Owls can be found in tundra, meadows, marshes, and dunes; during the nesting season they live on the tundra.

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How many Snowy Owls are there?

Except for an apparent decline of populations in northern Europe, information is lacking for long-term shifts in the numbers and distribution of this species. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 200,000 and lists them as a Common Bird in Steep Decline. The Snowy Owl Working Group recently announced that there may be far fewer; putting the number at 14,000 pairs.

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How long do they live?

The maximum known age in the wild is 9 years and 5 months. A captive bird in Switzerland lived for at least 28 years.

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How many young do they have in their lifetime?

This is currently unknown. Little is known about the Snowy Owls’ movements and, unless they are banded, it is difficult to identify individuals year to year on breeding grounds.

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What predators are threats to Snowy Owls?

Humans are probably this owl’s principal predator. Snowy Owls have been used for food from at least the last glaciation period, judging by numerous bones found in cave deposits. The species’ rareness in northern Europe may be due to persecution by humans as well as contraction of Arctic habitats. Inuits and other northern peoples still hunt the owls for food. Humans also killed them for trophies, to protect game animals, and perhaps out of curiosity. Nonhuman predators listed in the literature include foxes and jaegers. Potential predators almost certainly include wolves, dogs, and most any avian predator capable of killing an owl. In one case, an incubating female was killed by two Pomarine Jaegers.

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What other dangers do Snowy Owls face?

Although Snowy Owls are not a globally threatened species, their populations appear to be declining in northern Europe. In Alberta, Canada, 45 percent of the specimens examined had moderate to heavy fat deposits and traumatic injuries were the major cause of mortality. Causes of death or injury were collisions with unknown objects (46.5 percent), automobiles (14.1 percent), utility lines (4.2 percent) and airplanes (1.4 percent); also gunshot wounds (12.7 percent), electrocution (5.6 percent), and fishing tackle (1.4 percent). Only 14.1 percent was believed to be due to starvation.

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Do Snowy Owls migrate?

Migratory movements relate in ways not fully understood to the abundance of prey species, which may vary considerably from region to region across the polar tundra.

This large, northern circumpolar owl breeds in open terrain from near tree line to the edge of polar seas, wintering regularly south to the northern United States and sporadically beyond. A nomadic species and often-unpredictable migrant, its movements are thought to relate to the variable abundance of its main prey species, lemmings. As a winter migrant, it is more regular and abundant in the northern Great Plains than it is to the east, west and south of there.

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Are Snowy Owls aggressive? How do they attack?

Snowy owls are territorial and are often vocal and aggressive when defending their territory and young, sometimes striking humans and even wolves that stray near nests. Territorial behavior has also been observed among wintering Snowy Owls within a small area. During daylight, owls maintain territories by vocalizations accompanying agonistic displays, chases, and even attacks. Intrusions elicit high-pitched, drawn-out screams from a resident owl (“territorial screaming display”), accompanied by a territorial hooting display. At maximum display the owl holds its tail nearly perpendicular to the ground. Flying intruders elicit stronger responses than perched owls.

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Where can I see a Snowy Owl?

Despite the fact that Snowy Owls hunt both day and night, it is a challenge to see one since they tend to inhabit places where there are few humans.

The owls featured on the cam nest in the Arctic tundra (the landscape to the far north of the Artic Circle). This landscape is sparsely populated by humans and is a mostly treeless terrain. With a cold climate and short vegetation-growing season the most common plants are grasses, mosses, lichens and low shrubs.

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What can I do to help Snowy Owls?

By reporting sightings of Snowy Owls you can help scientists get a good understanding of their distribution and whether their numbers are stable, increasing, or decreasing. A real-time, online checklist program, eBird, has revolutionized the way that the birding community reports and accesses information about birds. eBird shares observations with a global community of educators, land managers, ornithologists, and conservation biologists. In time these data will become the foundation for a better understanding of bird distribution across the Western Hemisphere and beyond.

The most meaningful conservation policy in recent years has been protective measures that prohibit the shooting and trapping of owls for food, sport, or trophies. Harvesting of owls for food, feathers, claws (ornaments) by northern native peoples may affect local populations, but probably does not have the continent-wide potential for destruction as in the highly populated regions farther south. The Snowy Owl will benefit from existing policies to protect large birds in general from electrocutions, airplane strikes, etc.

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What research is being carried out by the Owl Research Institute?

The Owl Research Institute has been taking part in a 22-year study on the breeding ecology of Snowy Owls and brown lemmings. Established in 1992 in Barrow, Alaska, the Snowy Owl project focuses on the owl’s diet, habitat, and reproductive success. Thanks to the United Iñupiat Corporation and Barrow Environmental Observatory for permitting access to field sites. Long-term field studies are essential to understanding Snowy Owl populations.

Through the Owl Research Institute’s work, we have discovered that the nesting success of Snowy Owls fluctuates with the population cycles of brown lemmings.

In tracking studies, in conjunction with the Raptor Center of Boise, Idaho, the Owl Research Institute found that Snowy Owls engage in east to west, high-latitude movements from Barrow to Russia, then from Barrow to Canada. These migrations underscore the fact that conservation of this species will require large-scale, international efforts to protect Arctic habitat.

Occasionally, Snowy Owl populations irrupt into more southern latitudes. In 2005–06, a population of Snowy Owls overwintered in western Montana. During the event, the Institute collected dietary data and determined that the owls were primarily eating voles (95 percent).

The irruption emphasizes the fact that Snowy Owls require large areas of open lands, beyond the Arctic, to accommodate their nomadic tendencies.

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What caused the Snowy Owl Irruption in the Northeast and Great Lakes states in the winter of 2013–2014?

Scientists were keen to work out what caused the irruption in the Northeast and Great Lakes states of the US. Many researchers attempted to capture, measure and band owls that were hunting at airports, in farm fields and along shorelines. The first sightings appeared in November 2013. Snowy Owls were seen from Wisconsin east to New England, down through the Northeast and along the Arctic Coast. One bird was even found in Florida and another in Bermuda! The birds returned to the Arctic around late March–April 2014. Many of the owls banded by researchers were male, young and in good condition. The irruption of owls was thought to be a result of an increase in lemmings prompting increased breeding, bigger clutches of eggs and lots of offspring. The young birds may have had to disperse further south from their home territories in order to find food. Some satellite tracked individuals were noted hunting waterfowl at night on Lake Ontario sitting and waiting on rafts of ice floating across the water.

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Camera

Does the camera bother the birds?

No, the owls usually ignore the camera.

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How long will the camera stay on?

The camera will stream during the entire nesting season.

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What type of camera is being used?

The camera is a Sony SNC-WR630 1080p/60 fps Rapid Dome Camera powered by IPELA ENGINE EX™ – W Series.

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