Search Field Guide
Advanced Search
Montana Animal Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Snowy Owl - Bubo scandiacus

Google for more images Google for web pages

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: SNA

Agency Status
USFWS:
USFS:
BLM:
FWP Conservation Tier: 3
PIF:


 

External Links





 
General Description
Round-headed, eyes yellow, bill black. Feet heavily feathered. Lacks true facial disk. A distinctive white owl with varying degrees of dark brown spotting and barring. Adult males are almost pure white, although they have up to three tail bands. Adult females are distinctly barred throughout, although white still dominates. Females usually have from four to six tail bands. Immatures are very heavily barred throughout, and dark spotting may dominate the overall plumage. Intensity of dark spotting varies with the sex of the immatures; females are the darkest. An easy owl to recognize. SIZE: 20 to 27 inches. WEIGHT: 59 to 70 ounces (3.5 to 4.5 pounds). VOICE: The Snowy Owl is virtually silent during nonbreeding seasons. During the breeding season males have a loud, booming "hoo, hoo" given as a territorial advertisement or mating call. Females rarely hoot. The attack call is a guttural "krufff-guh-guh-guk". When excited it may emit a loud "hooo-uh, hooo-uh, hooo-uh, wuh-wuh-wuh". Other sounds are dog-like barks, rattling cackles, shrieks, hissing, and bill-snapping. Nestlings "cheep" up to 2 weeks of age, then hiss and squeal.

Diagnostic Characteristics
The Barn Owl has brown eyes, a white bill, and a heart-shaped facial disk. Also, they are rusty or tawny colored dorsally. The Short-eared Owl may also be confused; however, its overall color gives a golden/brown appearance and it is much smaller.

General Distribution
Montana Range



Western Hemisphere Range

 


Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 553

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density

Recency

Breeding
(direct evidence "B")


Breeding
(indirect evidence "b")


No evidence of Breeding
(transient "t")


Overwintering
(regular observations "W")


Overwintering
(at least one obs. "w")



 

(Records associated with a range of dates are excluded from time charts)



Migration
Migratory, but adults tend to remain farther north.

Habitat
Breeds on Arctic tundra. Winters primarily on open plains, and in coastal and agricultural areas.

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (high, medium, or low) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2001, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species’ range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of “observations versus availability of habitat”.
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were associated as using an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  High, medium, and low habitat quality was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species in the literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignments of habitat quality.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact Bryce Maxell at bmaxell@mt.gov or (406) 444-3655.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: http://mtnhp.org/requests/default.asp) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species’ known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2001.  The wild mammals of Montana.  Special Publication No. 12.  Lawrence, KS: The American Society of Mammalogists.  278 p.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana’s amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
Primarily voles and lemmings, although capable of taking ptarmigan, ducks, geese, hares, and rabbits.

Reproductive Characteristics
Begins breeding in May or June. Nests on the ground. Clutch size four to nine. Incubation 32 days. Young fledge at 50 to 60 days.

References
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View WorldCat Record   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American birds. 7th edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. 829 pp.
    • Decker Coal Co., 1981, Wildlife survey. July 7, 1981. In North Decker 5-Year Permit Application. Vol. III. Rule 26.4.304(12-14).
    • Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Schuster Inc. New York. 785 pp.
    • Johnsgard, P. A. 1992. Birds of the Rocky Mountains with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. xi + 504 pp.
    • Lenard, S., J. Carlson, J. Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar's Montana Bird Distribution, 6th Edition. Montana Audubon: Helena, MT, 144 pp.
    • Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map.
    • Parmelee, David F. 1992. Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus). Species Account Number 010. The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved 3/25/2008 from The Birds of North America Online database
    • Parmelee, David, 1992. Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca). In The Birds of North America, No. 10 (A. Poole, P. Stettenheim, and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, DC: The American Ornithologists' Union. 20 pp.
    • U.S. Forest Service. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 688. 625 pages.
    • Waage, Bruce C., 1993, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Colstrip, Montana: Annual Wildlife Monitoring Report; 1993 Field Season. April 1993.
  • Web Search Engines for Articles on "Snowy Owl"
Login Logout
Citation for data on this website:
Snowy Owl — Bubo scandiacus.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Retrieved on July 25, 2014, from http://FieldGuide.mt.gov/detail_ABNSB06010.aspx
 
There are currently 23 active users in the Montana Field Guide.