The snowy owl is able to survive in harsh environments and  makes its summer home above latitude 60° north.  During the winter, snowy owls can be seen in North Dakota when some owls migrate south to better obtain food.  Snowy eat 7 to 12 mice per day and can consume more than 1,600 lemmings per year. Snowy owls are diurnal and are active during the day as well as night.


Snowy Owls

Males are almost all white, while females have more flecks of black plumage. Juvenile snowy owls have black feathers until they turn white.

Male Snowy Owls are barred with dark brown when they’re young and get whiter as they get older. Females keep some dark markings throughout their lives. Although the darkest males and the palest females are nearly alike in color, the whitest birds—including the ones that played Harry Potter’s Hedwig—are always males and the most heavily barred ones are always females.

Reference: All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

 An owl can turn its head up to 270 degrees left or right from the forward facing position due to several reasons:

  • An owl's neck has 14 vertebrae, twice as many as humans.
  • Owls have only one occipital connection with the cervical vertebrae.  Humans have connnections. This allows the owl to move its head on the vertebrae column to a greater degree than people can.
  • Owls have a special structure of the jugular veins to ensure that blood supply is not impeded as the neck is rotated.

Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owlets

The great horned owl is found in North and South America and is second in size only to the snowy owl in North America.  This owl eats rabbits and hares, rats and mice and voles. The great horned owl nests early, often laying eggs weeks or even months before other raptors.

Great horned owls are year round residents of North Dakota and can be found even in Alaska and northern Canada.  They prefer forrested areas with access to open fields for hunting. 

Females are larger than males but males have a larger voice box and a deeper voice. Pairs often call together, with audible differences in pitch.  They are nocturnal and have excellent night vision.

Owls are squatters, they take over nests previously built by red-tailed or Swainson's hawks or other larger birds.  Since they are often the earliest breeding species, they have their pick of many available nest built in earlier years.

Mated pairs are monogamous and defend their territories with vigorous hooting, especially in the winter before egg-laying and in the fall when their young leave the area.

Short-eared Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

One of the most common owls in forests across northern North America (and across the U.S. in winter), saw-whets are highly nocturnal and seldom seen.  During daylight they roost in dense vegetation, typically just above eye level and near the trunk in evergreen trees.

Burrowing Owls

The burrowing owl is a small, long-legged owl found in prairies and deserts of North and South America.  They nest in burrows, such as those excavated by prairie dogs.  Burrowing owls are often active during the day and will also hunt at night.

They are seasonal visitors to North Dakota when they come here in the spring through fall for breeding.  They winter in southwestern states and Central America where they are found year round along with South America.

Before laying eggs, Burrowing Owls carpet the entrances to their homes with animal dung, which attracts dung beetles and other insects that the owls then catch and eat.

More Owl Photos

Great Horned Owl December 2018

Rough-legged Hawk and Great Horned Owl December 2018

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