Snowy Owls: Bird Expert Kenn Kaufman Answers 12 Questions
Find out if the birds are born white, why their vocalizations are different from other owls', and more.
Snowy owls are protected by law, and most people don't mean them any harm, but may unintentionally cause them more stress by repeatedly trying to approach them for closer looks or photos. In most cases, we've found that we can convince people to give the owls some space just by explaining their situation.
There was a case last week in which officials at Kennedy Airport in New York had started to shoot snowy owls that were perching close to the runways and posing a hazard to planes. After quick action by Audubon and other groups to mobilize public opinion, airport officials changed their plans and decided to use non-lethal methods to keep the owls away from the runways.
Where can you take a wounded snowy owl for rehab?
In many communities there are licensed wildlife rehabilitators who have the necessary training and permits to care for these birds. Check with your local Audubon chapter or with your state wildlife agency for the name of the nearest wildlife rehab facility.
Can you keep snowy owls as pets?
No--it's against U.S. laws for individuals to keep native owls as pets. And regardless of how cool they looked in the Harry Potter films, snowy owls probably wouldn't make great pets, even if it were legal to keep them. They are big, powerful birds, capable of doing serious damage with their hooked bills and sharp talons, and not likely ever to become affectionate with humans. Feeding such a large owl, and cleaning up after it, would be major chores.
Will snowy owls be able to adapt to the conditions predicted for the next century due to climate change? Will it impact their food sources or nesting habits?
Many of us are wondering about the answers to those questions! It's hard to say. Even in a warming climate, much of the Arctic is likely to remain open, treeless tundra, so the owls won't run out of breeding habitat. Their prey, including lemmings and other mammals and birds, probably will not disappear completely. One point of concern involves their wintering habitat. Studies within the last decade have shown that many snowy owls spend the winter far out on the sea ice in the Arctic, evidently hunting seabirds at open leads in the ice. With the continuing reduction in the amount of sea ice in the Arctic, the owls may be more likely to simply head south in fall, winding up in areas where they are not so well adapted. So even if they have good breeding seasons, fewer of the birds may survive through the winters. This is just speculation so far. We need to monitor the movements and numbers of these magnificent birds to have a chance of helping ensure the survival of the species.