Discover nature this week as you watch for a lucky glimpse of snowy owls in this last full week of January. If food is scarce in the arctic, you just might see them.
Known to be the heaviest and most distinctively marked owl of North America, the wingspan of a snowy owl can reach 4-and-a-half to 5 feet. Young males have dark brown bars that whiten as they age, but the females keep the contrasting dark bars against the bright white base throughout their lives.
Normally, they thrive in the northernmost part of the arctic tundra. Though they are rarely seen in Missouri, peak numbers occur about every four years according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. In the arctic, lemmings make up a large part of their diet, so when lemming populations dip in the far north, they head south to look for other options.
Owls like the snowy owl are classified as birds of prey - distinguished by sharp talons and hooked beaks that are useful in catching and eating rodents and small mammals.
Unlike other owls, snowy owls are active during the day and are very tame. They perch on the ground, fence posts or hay bales to survey the area for a possible meal of rabbit, squirrel, mink or muskrat.
If they range down into Missouri in a hard winter, they will be in open grasslands, probably because it is remotely similar to their natural tundra nesting range.
Though the hoot of an owl is familiar to most Missourians, who are accustomed to hearing the calls of great horned owls and eastern screech owls, Missourians will not hear the calls of visiting snowy owls. These white and grey beauties are silent when south of their breeding ground.
Because of their tame personalities, snowy owls are particularly vulnerable to shootings and car collisions.