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The Magnificent Snowy Owl

The Magnificent Snowy Owl

It glided toward me in perfect silence, ghostly and powerful, back-lit by the sun and almost invisible against the backdrop of the winter-white field near that lonely train station. Its eyes bright and yellow - the hunter was scanning the stubble in the field for unwary mice or squirrels.

[caption id="attachment_23299" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Valerie Assinewe Valerie Assinewe,
Guest Blogger[/caption] This blog was written by guest blogger Valerie Assinewe. Anyone who has seen a Snowy Owl will always remember the sight. The owl's bright, piercing yellow eyes and snow-white feathers make for a striking impression, and due to elusive nature, catching a glimpse of a Snowy Owl is a truly unique experience. Despite being so easily recognizable, there are many of us that aren't as familiar with the Snowy Owl as we may believe. Here are a few facts on this magnificent species: Where do they live? The Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiaca) is a bird of the high Arctic tundra, always found in proximity to its food sources. Although a large number of these owls stay in their northern range during the winter, some migrate into southern Canada. What do they look like? The Snowy Owls have a rounded head with no ear tufts. Their eyes are a piercing yellow and the bill is black.  It is the largest bird in the Arctic. Adults weigh 1.6-2.9 kg and are 52-71 cm long with a wingspan of 126-145 cm: interestingly, the female is larger than the male.Image of a Snowy Owl Young male owls get whiter as they age. Some adult males are completely white, while others retain small flecks of black and brown on the body and wings. Females are darker than males, with dusky spotting, and never become totally white. On the ground they appear bulky because the legs and feet are covered with feathers. What do they eat? The Snowy Owl is a carnivore, and its diet is typically small mammals. It prefers lemmings when these are available, but also preys on ground squirrels, hares, rabbits, and voles. They hunt birds such as ducks, geese, grebes, murrelets and songbirds. They eat fish and even carrion. How do they reproduce? Snowy Owls usually breed between May and September. Breeding pairs may form on the wintering grounds, or as the adults arrive in the Arctic. Nests with optimal visibility are on the ground, often built on mounds or boulders. Depending on the prey availability, the clutch size can be 3-16 eggs; if food is scarce, the owls may not breed that year. The eggs are incubated by the female for 31-33 days, during which the male provides her food. The young leave the nest after 2-3 weeks, but they are not able to fly well until ~7 weeks. The young are fed by the parents for up to 9-10 weeks, until they are able to hunt for themselves. Captive Snowy Owls have lived up to 28 years, but those in the wild have an average life span of 10 years.  Interesting stuff
  • The Snowy Owl was selected in 1987 as the official bird of Quebec, a symbol of the province’s support for wildlife protection.
  • Unlike other owls, the Snowy Owl hunts during the day, the species’ adaptation to the 24 hours of daylight during summer months in the Arctic.
  • The Snowy Owl is a sit-and-wait hunter. Look for it perched on a rise or high area near open ground, where it will watch and listen for prey. They will also seek prey by flying low to the ground. Its sharp talons usually ensure a quick and successful end to the pursuit.
  • Wolves and Arctic Foxes are the main threat to Snowy Owls. These and other predators endanger egg and hatchling survival.

The Snowy Owl is not considered endangered under the Canada’s Species at Risk Act.  In 2017, however, the International Union for Conservation of Nature uplisted the Snowy Owl to “vulnerable” status. The IUCN speculates that the declining population may be attributable to the effect of warming temperatures on prey availability: lemmings are especially sensitive to temperature changes because they depend on deep, fluffy and thick layers of insulating snow to breed successfully. Though I treasure the memory of my Snowy Owl encounter, their southern wintering unfortunately exposes them to greater danger of collisions with vehicles and other infrastructure. Join Nature Canada in supporting conservation efforts to protect the Snowy Owl and its habitat, and help ensure that your children have the opportunity for a magic moment - a glimpse of a Snowy Owl in free flight.

Winter 2018 Is The Time To See Some Snowy Owls!

Winter 2018 Is The Time To See Some Snowy Owls!

[caption id="attachment_35593" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Aniko Pollak Aniko Pollak, Guest Blogger[/caption] This blog was written by guest blogger Aniko Pollak.  Nature Canada’s February Calendar Month is the Snowy Owl and what a perfect month to choose the species! We are in the midst of winter and there have been many reports of Snowy Owls in southern cities and towns across Canada. This is the time to get all your winter gear on and go looking for them. Snowy Owls have so many interesting features:Image of a Snowy Owl

  • They are largest owl by weight in North America.
  • Males are almost entirely white, with some brown spotting - while juveniles and females sport a much higher density of brown spots.
  • Their feathers are thick and insulated keeping them warm in the cold arctic winter. They even have feathers covering their talons!
  • Their average wingspan is four to five feet, which allows them to glide through the air - hardly making any noise to avoid prey detection.
  • They are diurnal, meaning that they hunt day and night, not like most owls!
Snowy Owls mainly live in the arctic where they breed during the summer months. However, during winter months they may migrate in extremely large numbers to southern Canada and northern United States, known as irruptions. Speculation on what causes Snowy Owl irruptions might involve the regional population fluctuations of lemmings. An extreme abundance of lemmings one season may lead to an extremely successful breeding success the next, which spikes the Snowy Owl population!  Winter 2018 is an irruption of Snowy Owls in Canada! That is why 2018 is a great year to go outside or check out some open fields for Snowy Owls.  Try looking for them in fields, and open farmland. They like to be perched on fence posts, atop of telephone wire posts, and overhanging branches!

The Snowy Owl to Represent Canada

The Snowy Owl to Represent Canada

[caption id="attachment_29264" align="alignleft" width="170"]Image of Alex MacDonald, Senior Conservation Manager Alex MacDonald, Senior Conservation Manager. Photo by Tamam Ahmed Jama[/caption] Last night at the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, in partnership with Bird Studies Canada, staged a debate for The National Bird Project. There are currently 5 finalists: the Common Loon, Snowy Owl, Black-capped Chickadee, Gray Jay and Canada Goose. The debate featured 5 panelists, each making points as to why their bird should be named Canada's national bird. Our very own Senior Conservation Manager, Alex MacDonald, was one of the panelists and he made the argument that the Snowy Owl should be the winner. Snowy Owl, Harfang des neiges, Bubo scandiacus, Hedwig; these are the names of Canada’s quintessential national bird. The Snowy Owl is, like Tilley Hats and the Robertson screwdriver, a symbol synonymous with Canada and this nation’s northern disposition – the true north, strong and free. The Snowy Owl is uniquely adapted to life in the unforgiving Canadian winter and the brief Arctic summer. It has its own insulated winter boots in the feathers along its legs; it sports thick insulating feathers on its body that, lacking pigment, can hold more insulating air; and, despite being an owl, it’s just as comfortable hunting during the long Arctic summer days as it is during our northern winter nights. The Snowy Owl has the patience of a tectonic plate when hunting. It can hunt for seabirds on ice flows and at polynyas where most birds would simply starve or freeze. And it also knows how to deal with an all-you-can-eat buffet if summer lemmings are in good supply. If the going gets tough in hunting terms, Snowy Owls get going – migrating as far south as they must to find adequate food. But nonetheless, the Snowy Owl is the only finalist that can actually be found all across Canada throughout the year, from Alert to the US border and on both coasts. And other than the Black-capped Chickadee and the Canada Goose it’s the only finalist whose annual range includes the Prairies. So remember: a vote for the Gray Jay or the Common Loon is a vote against Canada’s wheat farmers. It’s true that the Snowy Owl is also found in northern Eurasia… But of course Canada’s national bird should also be found outside of Canada – part of being Canadian is being an easily identifiable foreign national wherever you travel! Finally, it’s 2016, Folks. The Snowy Owl is a great example of Canadian girl-power. The females are not only physically larger and stronger, but are also socially dominant over the males. My Canada includes equal opportunities for women and female Snowy Owls. And yours should too. Consider this, the mere fact that the Snowy Owl is the only true bird of prey among the finalists, and as such could – if need be – prey upon any of these birds, is reason enough to crown the Snowy Owl tonight’s victor. [one_half]Image of a Snowy Owl[/one_half] [one_half_last] [caption id="attachment_29273" align="alignnone" width="412"]Image of panelists The panelists. Photo by Photo by Tamam Ahmed Jama[/caption] [/one_half_last] Consider also that Canada is a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, and as such Canada has a Parliament, which is what we call a group of owls. We don't have a government framework based on an “asylum”, a “banditry”, a “gaggle”, or a “scold”. Canadians, our democracy is built around a Parliament and for that reason alone the Snowy Owl is the only logical choice for national bird. Finally, I asked my kids, aged 3 and 6, why the Snowy Owl should be Canada’s national bird. They told me, without a moment of hesitation, “because we like it, Daddy”. It just rips my heart out to think that Canadians would collectively look at my kids in the eyes and say, “no thanks, kids, we’ll choose a bird can’t walk, or one that hide rotting food instead”. Please don’t make my kids cry, Canada. Please… If you agree with Alex, show your support on Twitter with #TeamOwl and #CanadaBird! And if you would like to learn more about the raptors and owls, check out our new e-Book!

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Winter Magic at Presqu’ile Park

Winter Magic at Presqu’ile Park

[caption id="attachment_25028" align="alignleft" width="150"]Leslie Abram Guest Blogger Leslie Abram Guest Blogger[/caption] This blog was written by guest blogger Leslie Abram who is a frequent visitor to Presqu’ile Park in all seasons. Come take a walk- you never know what you might find!

Who’s Hiding?

Winter is a spectacular time to visit Presqu’ile Park, near Brighton, Ontario. Winter is when Presqu’ile reveals its secrets. Go for a walk and you may have the park all to yourself, except for the birds and animals that call it home. Look closely, you may see a Red Fox, a Barred Owl (pictured above), or even a Snowy Owl on a spectacular ice formation out on the lake.   [one_half] [caption id="attachment_25065" align="alignnone" width="435"]Image of a Red Fox Keep your eyes open for one of the red[/caption] [/one_half][one_half_last] [caption id="attachment_25033" align="alignnone" width="435"]Image of a Snowy Owl Snowy Owls use the lakeshore ice to rest and keep a lookout for prey.[/caption] [/one_half_last]

Ice Art

Have you ever heard of an ice volcano, or an ice dragon? Well, Presqu’ile’s got them! The action of the wind and the waves on the north shore of Lake Ontario make incredible natural sculptures on the shore. Sometimes it is hard to believe they even belong on planet earth! [one_half] [caption id="attachment_25057" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Image of ice on a branch Can you see the ice dragon?[/caption] [/one_half] [one_half_last] [caption id="attachment_25058" align="alignnone" width="532"]Image of ice volcanoes Waves create spectacular ice volcanoes on the beach.[/caption] [/one_half_last]

Beauty on the Beach

Though Presqu’ile is known for its sandy beaches and swimming in the summertime, you’ll never see beaches like these in the summer. Wind off the lake blows the water onto any surface in its way, creating surreal landscapes, Sunset is a symphony of fire and ice. [caption id="attachment_25062" align="aligncenter" width="570"]Image of a sunset Icy jewels hang from a tree at the beach.[/caption]

Come and Visit!

Presqu’ile is open every day this winter. It’s located south of Brighton, between Toronto and Kingston, Ontario. Come for a visit - you won’t be disappointed. Email Signup

Who’s there? Identifying owl calls 

Who’s there? Identifying owl calls 

Is there an owl in your neighbourhood? Probably. Some can be found almost anywhere with trees, even in the city! Even so, owls are famously mysterious. Many people have never seen one in the wild. Winter is a great time to look because the bare branches help reveal roosts. Some owls such as the Great Horned and Northern Saw-Whet also become more vocal in late winter as breeding season approaches.

Guide to common Canadian owls and their sounds

Barred Owl

  Image of a Barred Owl
Habitat: Mature forests across southern Canada. Most active during: Night. Sounds: Its most famous call sounds like a raspy: “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all?”

Great Horned Owl

  Image of a Great Horned Owl
Habitat: Diverse treed landscapes across North America, including urban parks. Most active during: Dusk and night. Sounds: The classic owl sound effect used in TV and film, which sounds like: “Who’s awake? Me too.”

Eastern and Western Screech Owl

[caption id="attachment_24284" align="alignleft" width="269"]Eastern Screech Owl by Mike Norkum. CC BY ND 2.0 Eastern Screech Owl by Mike Norkum. CC BY ND 2.0[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_24285" align="alignleft" width="236"]Image of a Western Screech Owl Western Screech Owl by Jon Nelson. CC BY 2.0[/caption]
Habitat: Both species use a wide range of habitats, including urban parks. The eastern species occurs in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec; the western screech is found in BC. Most active during: Night. Sounds: While these two species look alike, they sound different. The eastern screech produces a high-pitched whinny whereas the western screech trills a series of nasal hoots that gets faster at the end.

Snowy Owl

Image of a Snowy Owl
Habitat: Open spaces including shorelines, airfields and farms. Although they breed in the tundra, some winters they migrate to southern Canada and the US. Most active during: Daytime. Sounds: Harsh squawks.

Short-Eared Owl

Image of a Short Eared Owl
Habitat: Open areas like farmland and marshes. This species breeds across Canada, but is usually only found in BC and Ontario during winter. Most active during: Dawn and dusk. Sounds: Raspy yips or quiet hoots.

Long-Eared Owl

Image of a Long-Eared Owl
Habitat: Woodlands across southern Canada. Most active during: Night. Sounds: Evenly spaced hoots, like the sound made by blowing across the top of a bottle.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Image of a Northern Saw Whet Owl
Habitat: Mature forests across southern Canada. Most active during: Night. Sounds: Shrill, monotonous toots. Also high-pitched whines, for which the species might be named; apparently someone thought it sounded like the whetting of a saw.

Finding owls

Here are a few other clues you can look for:
  • Other birds making noise and mobbing the owl;
  • Pellets (regurgitated clumps of indigestible food) and white poop stains around the bases of tree trunks;
  • A habitat that matches your target species’ requirements. Does it need a perch with a view? Open space for hunting? Dense forest for shelter?

Respecting owls

Visiting owls is exciting, but it’s important to be a polite guest. To protect the owls’ well being, please do not:
  1. Get too close. If an owl is staring at you, elongating its body or flying away, it needs more space.
  2. Lure owls closer with food. This can encourage dangerous habits.
  3. Be noisy. Staying quiet will also increase your chances of seeing an owl.
  4. Play owl recordings. It is stressful for an owl to respond to ‘false alarms,’ thinking another bird is nearby.
  5. Tell all your friends. Too much human traffic would be disturbing.

Bird Tweet of the Week: Snowy Owl

Bird Tweet of the Week: Snowy Owl

Known in French as Harfang des neiges, the Snowy Owl is a diurnal species, which means it will hunt at any hour of the day, unlike most owls. This behaviour is necessary because it spends the summer months to the far north in the Arctic Circle, where there is nearly 24-hours of daylight. [caption id="attachment_14790" align="alignleft" width="200"]Snowy Owl Snowy Owl[/caption] Each week we introduce a new bird from the Ottawa-Gatineau area through our segment on CBC Radio's In Town and Out. Alex MacDonald, Nature Canada's Manager of Protected Areas, shares interesting facts about the birds that live in our communities. Be sure to tune-in to "Bird Tweet of the Week" on CBC Radio One 91.5 FM on Saturday mornings from 6am to 9am and listen to past episodes on our website This episode aired on Saturday February 1, 2014.

May Snowy Owls in Southern Saskatchewan

May Snowy Owls in Southern Saskatchewan

In early to mid May, while some of us were gearing up for the arrival of warblers and flycatchers, southern Saskatchewan was suffering snow storms and wintery weather.  Perhaps it was to make the dozen or more Snowy Owls on Reed and Chaplin Lakes Important Bird Areas between Moose Jaw and Swift Current, feel at home!   This spring, large numbers of this Arctic owl could be observed on Reed and Chaplin - as many as 25 in a day!   Lori Wilson, Caretaker for the Reed Lake IBA, provided the photo, click to enlarge.

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