Bubo scandiacus - (Linnaeus, 1758)
Snowy Owl
Synonym(s): Bubo scandiaca (Linnaeus, 1758) ;Nyctea scandiaca (Linnaeus, 1758)
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Bubo scandiacus (Linnaeus, 1758) (TSN 686683)
French Common Names: harfang des neiges
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.103975
Element Code: ABNSB06010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Birds - Other Birds
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Aves Strigiformes Strigidae Bubo
Genus Size: C - Small genus (6-20 species)
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1998. Check-list of North American birds. Seventh edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. [as modified by subsequent supplements and corrections published in The Auk]. Also available online: http://www.aou.org/.
Concept Reference Code: B98AOU01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Nyctea scandiaca
Taxonomic Comments: Former treatment of this species in the monotypic genus Nyctea was based on distinct plummage and weak osteological differences (Ford 1967). Genetic studies, however, indicate that it is closely related to Bubo (Sibley and Ahlquist 1990) and in fact is nested within the genus (Wink and Heidrich 1999). The specific name is an adjective and changes to agree with the gender of the generic name.
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 06Apr2016
Global Status Last Changed: 27Nov1996
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Large holarctic distribution; populations appear to be relatively stable and not threatened.
Nation: United States
National Status: N4B,N4N (05Jan1997)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N5B,N5N,N5M (08Jan2018)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alaska (S3S4), Colorado (SNA), Connecticut (SNA), Delaware (SNA), District of Columbia (S1N), Idaho (SNA), Illinois (SNA), Indiana (SNA), Iowa (S2N), Kansas (SNA), Kentucky (SNA), Maine (S2S3N), Massachusetts (S2S3N), Michigan (SNRN), Minnesota (SNRN), Missouri (SNA), Montana (SNA), Nebraska (SNRN), New Hampshire (SNA), New Jersey (S4N), New York (SNRN), North Carolina (SNA), North Dakota (SNA), Ohio (SNRN), Oregon (SNA), Pennsylvania (S1N), South Dakota (S3N), Vermont (SNA), Virginia (SNA), Washington (S3N), Wisconsin (SNA), Wyoming (SNA)
Canada Alberta (S4M), British Columbia (S3N), Labrador (S1B,S3N,SUM), Manitoba (S4), New Brunswick (S1N,S2S3M), Newfoundland Island (S3N,SUM), Northwest Territories (S5), Nova Scotia (SNA), Nunavut (S4B,SUN,S4M), Ontario (SNA), Prince Edward Island (SNA), Quebec (S4), Saskatchewan (S5N), Yukon Territory (S1)

Other Statuses

Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC): Not at Risk (01Apr1995)
Comments on COSEWIC: This species is widespread, with no evidence of decline and no obvious limiting factors. Designated Not at Risk in April 1995.
IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Protection Status (CITES): Appendix II

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: >2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Holarctic. Breeding range includes arctic tundras of the world: Aleutian Islands and northern Alaska, throughout Canadian Arctic Islands to northern Greenland, northern Scandinavia, northern Russia, southern Novaya Zemlya and northern Siberia south to the limits of tundra in Eurasia and the Commander Islands. Rarely in the British Isles (Cramp 1985). Snowy owls winter within breeding range if conditions allow; also south to southern Canada and northern United States, primarily in the northern Great Plains, but with occasional irruptive movements east, south, and west of there; and to Iceland, British Isles and central Europe, central Russia, northern China and Sakhalin. Accidental in northwest India, Japan, Bermuda, the Mediterranean and Iran (Parmelee 1992). Some evidence exists for winter site fidelity (Oeming 1957, Follen and Leupke 1980).

Estimated global extent of occurrence is 1,000,000-10,000,000 square kilometers (BirdLife International 2005).

Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300

Population Size: 10,000 to >1,000,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Generally uncommon to scarce (Holt et al. 1999). Global population estimated at 290,000 individuals (Rich et al. 2004). Estimated number of breeding pairs in Canada in the early 1990s was 10,000-30,000 (Kirk et al. 1995).

Overall Threat Impact Comments: Native harvest may affect local populations but probably does not have the potential for wide-scale impact (Parmelee 1992). However, Ellis and Smith (1993) estimated that trappers in Siberia annually took 100,000 snowy owls.

Dependence upon lemming population ecology, which may be impacted by global climate change, is of concern; Kerr and Packer (1998) predicted that the collared lemming (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus), a keystone species, will lose approximately 60 percent of its habitat in Canada due to global warming. Low lemming abundance could result in high mortality of young owls due to starvation.

Natural enemies are few; arctic fox and wolf prey on adults; skuas and jaegers take eggs and chicks. Many apparently die from starvation during movement southward from the arctic, but collisions with automobiles, utility lines, airplanes, gunshot wounds, and entanglement in fishing tackle are responsible for the majority of reported fatalities (Kerlinger and Lein 1988 in Petersen and Holt 1999, Holt et al. 1999). Exposure also kills many nestlings (up to 3 or 4 chicks per clutch) (Karalus 1987).

Kirk (1995) reports no imminent obvious threats in Canada.

Short-term Trend: Relatively Stable (<=10% change)
Short-term Trend Comments: Global population trends have not been quantified, but populations appear stable (Holt et al. 1999). No evidence of a decline in Canada (Kirk 1995) or North America (but no definitive data exists) (Holt et al. 1999). The species is believed to have decreased in Europe, perhaps because of human hunting combined with long-term climate changes (Voous 1988, Johnsgard 2002).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: Information is needed on north Asian populations (Holt et al. 1999). Variable irruptive nomadic behavior may reduce power of surveys to discern long term population trends.

Distribution
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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Holarctic. Breeding range includes arctic tundras of the world: Aleutian Islands and northern Alaska, throughout Canadian Arctic Islands to northern Greenland, northern Scandinavia, northern Russia, southern Novaya Zemlya and northern Siberia south to the limits of tundra in Eurasia and the Commander Islands. Rarely in the British Isles (Cramp 1985). Snowy owls winter within breeding range if conditions allow; also south to southern Canada and northern United States, primarily in the northern Great Plains, but with occasional irruptive movements east, south, and west of there; and to Iceland, British Isles and central Europe, central Russia, northern China and Sakhalin. Accidental in northwest India, Japan, Bermuda, the Mediterranean and Iran (Parmelee 1992). Some evidence exists for winter site fidelity (Oeming 1957, Follen and Leupke 1980).

Estimated global extent of occurrence is 1,000,000-10,000,000 square kilometers (BirdLife International 2005).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
NOTE: The maps for birds represent the breeding status by state and province. In some jurisdictions, the subnational statuses for common species have not been assessed and the status is shown as not-assessed (SNR). In some jurisdictions, the subnational status refers to the status as a non-breeder; these errors will be corrected in future versions of these maps. A species is not shown in a jurisdiction if it is not known to breed in the jurisdiction or if it occurs only accidentally or casually in the jurisdiction. Thus, the species may occur in a jurisdiction as a seasonal non-breeding resident or as a migratory transient but this will not be indicated on these maps. See other maps on this web site that depict the Western Hemisphere ranges of these species at all seasons of the year.
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AK, CO, CT, DC, DE, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, MA, ME, MI, MN, MO, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OR, PA, SD, VA, VT, WA, WI, WY
Canada AB, BC, LB, MB, NB, NF, NS, NT, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. For information on how to obtain shapefiles of species ranges see our Species Mapping pages at www.natureserve.org/conservation-tools/data-maps-tools.

Range Map Compilers: WILDSPACETM 2002


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
AK Bethel (CA) (02050), Nome (CA) (02180), North Slope (02185)
ID Bonner (16017), Jefferson (16051), Jerome (16053)
WA Clallam (53009)+, Douglas (53017)+, Grays Harbor (53027)+, King (53033)+, Lincoln (53043)+, Pacific (53049)+, Skagit (53057)+, Thurston (53067)+
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
17 Priest (17010215)+, Lower Spokane (17010307), Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake (17020001), Moses Coulee (17020012), Upper Crab (17020013), Upper Snake-Rock (17040212)+, Beaver-Camas (17040214)+, Grays Harbor (17100105), Willapa Bay (17100106), Strait of Georgia (17110002), Lower Skagit (17110007), Lake Washington (17110012), Nisqually (17110015), Dungeness-Elwha (17110020)
19 Nunavak-St. Matthew Islands (19030503)+, Shishmaref (19050201)+, Kukpowruk River (19060101)+, Kokolik River (19060102)+, Utukok River (19060103)+, Kuk River (19060201)+, Northwest Coast (19060202)+, Meade River (19060203)+, Ikpikpuk River (19060204)+, Harrison Bay (19060205)+, Admiralty Bay-Dease Inlet (19060206)+, Lower Colville River (19060304)+, Kuparuk River (19060401)+, Sagavanirktok River (19060402)+, Mikkelson Bay (19060403)+, Canning River (19060501)+, Camden Bay (19060502)+, Beaufort Lagoon (19060503)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: A large owl.
Reproduction Comments: Eggs laying begins early to mid-May. Clutch size (usually 5-7) increases with prey abundance; sometimes >10. Incubation lasts 27-38 days, by female (male provides food). Young are tended by both parent, leave nest at 2-4 weeks, fly well by about 7 weeks, fed by parents after fledging. High mortality of young occurs when lemming abundance is low.
Ecology Comments: Breeding territory usually about 10 square km or less; may be less than 1 sq km in areas of high lemming density. Females may defend territories of 150-450 ha in winter (Johnsgard 1988). Local populations may vary ten-fold depending on lemming abundance.
Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: Y
Long Distance Migrant: Y
Mobility and Migration Comments: Disperses from nesting areas after breeding; moves southward to areas where weather and food permit overwintering. Regular migrant in northern Great Plains of Canada. Irruptive southward migrations in western and eastern North America; some authors correlate southward movements with lemming population cycle, but Kerlinger et al. (1985) found no correlation. Arrives in northern Great Plains early November through late December or early January, departs late February and early March (some remain until late March) (Kerlinger and Lein 1988).
Estuarine Habitat(s): Herbaceous wetland, Tidal flat/shore
Palustrine Habitat(s): HERBACEOUS WETLAND
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Cropland/hedgerow, Grassland/herbaceous, Tundra
Habitat Comments: Tundra, primarily where mounds, hillocks or rocks are present; in winter and migration occurring also in open country such as prairie, marshes, fields, pastures and sand dunes (AOU 1983), as well as tidal shores.

Nests on the ground in open country, usually on a slightly raised site (Harrison 1978). Nests in a scraped out area.

Adult Food Habits: Carnivore
Immature Food Habits: Carnivore
Food Comments: Diet predominantly lemmings and voles; important alternate prey includes other rodents, rabbits, birds (e.g., waterfowl, Galliformes). Estimated that young consumes about 1500 lemmings between hatching and independence from parents.
Adult Phenology: Circadian, Diurnal, Nocturnal
Immature Phenology: Circadian, Diurnal, Nocturnal
Phenology Comments: During the arctic summer may hunt during the day and at night (National Geographic Society 1983).
Length: 58 centimeters
Weight: 1963 grams
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
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Management Summary
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Biological Research Needs: Impact of harvest by Siberian hunters needs to be evaluated. Migration routes and timing of movements need study. Cooperation is needed between United States, Canadian, Russian and European biologists to estimate abundance, distribution and population trends (ADFG 2005). Lemming population dynamics relative to environmental/climate change warrant study. Changes in arctic habitats and winter sea ice conditions relative to Snowy Owl distribution along the Arctic Ocean should be studied.
Population/Occurrence Delineation
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Group Name: Large Owls

Use Class: Breeding
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Evidence of historical breeding, or current and likely recurring breeding, at a given location, minimally a reliable observation of one or more breeding pairs in appropriate habitat. Be cautious about creating EOs for observations that may represent single breeding events outside the normal breeding distribution.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance based conservatively on larger home ranges (greater than 800 hectares). Home ranges generally well over 100 hectares, often over 500 hectares. Northern Hawk-Owl: average 372 hectares (Baekken et al. 1987). Great Horned Owl: average 483 hectares in Yukon (Rohner 1997), average about 106 hectares in Utah (Smith 1969). Barred Owl: average 273-971 hectares (Elody and Sloan 1985, Nicholls and Fuller 1987, Mazur et al. 1998). Great Gray Owl, varied from 239-400 hectares (Craighead and Craighead 1956, Winter 1982). Barn Owl: averages range from 198-921 hectares (Byrd 1982, Colvin 1984, Hegdal and Blaskiewicz 1984, Rosenburg 1986, Byrd and Johnston 1991, Gubanyi 1989).
Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): 1.5 km
Inferred Minimum Extent Justification: Based on a conservatively small home range of just under 200 hectares (see Separation Justification).
Date: 02Nov2001
Author: Cannings, S.
Notes: Contains all North American owls larger than Screech-Owls, except Spotted, Long-eared, and Short-eared Owls.

Use Class: Nonbreeding
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Evidence of recurring presence of wintering individuals outside their breeding area (including historical); and potential recurring presence at a given location. Occurrences should be locations where the species is resident for some time during the appropriate season; it is preferable to have observations documenting presence over at least 20 days annually. Be cautious about creating EOs for observations that may represent single events.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance based conservatively on larger home ranges (greater than 800 hectares; see Separation Justification in Breeding class).
Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): 1.5 km
Inferred Minimum Extent Justification: Based on a conservatively small home range of just under 200 hectares (see Separation Justification in Breeding Class).
Date: 16Oct2002
Author: Cannings, S.
Notes: Contains all North American owls larger than Screech-Owls, except Spotted, Long-eared, and Short-eared Owls.

Use Class: Roost
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Evidence of recurring, nonbreeding, communal roosting at a given location; reliable observation of multiple individuals roosting in a distinct habitat patch in multiple years. To avoid creating EOs for ephemeral situations, there should be evidence of communal roosting over at least two different (though not necessarily consecutive) nonbreeding seasons.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance is arbitrary. Pertinent biologically based separation criteria do not exist.
Date: 25Oct2012
Author: Hammerson, G
Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 11Jan2008
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 30Mar1995
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): HAMMERSON, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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