• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer

Snowy Owl


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The regal Snowy Owl is one of the few birds that can get even non-birders to come out for a look. This largest (by weight) North American owl shows up irregularly in winter to hunt in windswept fields or dunes, a pale shape with catlike yellow eyes. They spend summers far north of the Arctic Circle hunting lemmings, ptarmigan, and other prey in 24-hour daylight. In years of lemming population booms they can raise double or triple the usual number of young.


  • Male territorial hoot
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Both sexes, but particularly the males, make low, powerful, slightly rasping hoots. They’re often given two at a time but may include up to six hoots in a row. These can be heard for up to 7 miles on the tundra, and other owls often answer with hoots of their own.


  • Female bark call and bill snap
  • Male bark call given in alarm at nest
  • Mewing whistle of female
  • Call
  • Call
  • Begging squeal and chitter call of chick
  • Fledgling begging call and chitter
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

In defense, Snowy Owls will hoot, whistle, and hiss.

Other Sounds

When agitated, Snowy Owls snap their bills shut to make a clacking sound.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Find This Bird

Unless you visit the high arctic, you’ll mainly be looking for Snowy Owls during winter in wide-open areas such as fields and shorelines. Scan snowy flat areas and be on the lookout for any irregularities in the snow. A lump or dirty patch could be a Snowy Owl facing away from you. Snowy Owls like to perch in conspicuous areas, so be sure to check high points like hay bales, fenceposts, telephone poles, buildings, or grain elevators. Also look for agitated birds—other raptors or gulls may swoop at a Snowy Owl sitting on a beach.

You Might Also Like

A Season of Snowy Owls, Living Bird, Spring 2014.

Project SNOWstorm Seizes the Moment to Take a Closer Look at Snowy Owls, All About Birds, January 2014. (update May 24, 2016)

Banding Snowy Owl Chicks With Researcher Denver Holt, All About Birds, July 21, 2014.

A Live Visit to the Snowy Owl Nest on Our Live Cam, All About Birds, July 24, 2014.

A Snowy Owl Sequel?, All About Birds, January 16, 2015.

At Home on the Alaskan Tundra With Snowy Owl Researcher Denver Holt, Living Bird, Spring 2015.

Raptors and Rat Poison, Living Bird, Summer 2015.

Meet the Strongest Snowy Owl Chick From a Clutch of Seven [video]



Or Browse Bird Guide by Family, Name or Shape
bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

The Cornell Lab will send you updates about birds, birding, and opportunities to help bird conservation. You can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell or give your email address to others.