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Snowy Owl photos: a day in the life

Posted on Dec 17, 2013

This is less of a “day” than a 15 or 20 minute period of me photographing and taking video of a Snowy Owl in the southern part of Jamestown, New York during the Christmas Bird Count for the city that took place on December 15, 2013. However, the photos do depict most of what goes on during the day at our latitude for a Snowy Owl. This bird looked to me like an immature male with a lot of barring over the body though not as dark, thick or bold as some are with a rather large white bib. Let’s let it narrate…

Snowy Owl Jamestown CBC 12-15-13 (1)

“Oh, hello there, human. I’m not very interested in you as you do not look like a threat. I’m far off the ground and you’re pretty distant, quiet, and dull in dark colors as you move slowly or stand still. That’s why my neck and head are still relaxed and my eyes are only open a bit and not wideeeeee.”

Snowy Owl Jamestown CBC 12-15-13 (2)

“You are boring, human, and I am returning to looking for other intriguing or threatening things for a moment in my still relaxed posture.”

Snowy Owl Jamestown CBC 12-15-13 (3)

“I certainly am rather sleepy and there does not seem to be much going on right now up here even though I have scanned the whole area.”

Snowy Owl Jamestown CBC 12-15-13 (4)

“Time for a snooze.”

Snowy Owl Jamestown CBC 12-15-13 (5)

“You can check out my little black ear tufts and big white bib while I sleep.”

Snowy Owl Jamestown CBC 12-15-13 (6)

“I don’t know why I am sitting over a busy roadway with all sorts of traffic moving around since it keeps momentarily waking me up but it’s a comfortable seat. People don’t really bother me too much and I feel (and appear to be) healthy and strong so it’s fine.”

Snowy Owl Jamestown CBC 12-15-13 (7)

“Since I’m awake I guess I can do some preening.”

Snowy Owl Jamestown CBC 12-15-13 (8)

“I wouldn’t be doing this if I was not very comfortable and safe.”

Snowy Owl Jamestown CBC 12-15-13 (9)

“This is about all I am up for right now…”

Why did I mention “our latitude”? There are all sorts of discussions and disagreements going on right now during the current massive Snowy Owl invasion with the species having been described historically as a diurnal hunter as people argue over the fact they see an owl not hunting during the daytime but active at night. In my experience over the years different Snowys do different things. You may find a Snowy hunting the night away and snoozing when the sun is up. Others may be active in a crepuscular sort of schedule. Many are definitely found hunting all sorts of prey during the daylight hours from mice to rabbits and various ducks.

It probably depends on each bird and what they need most at a given moment, and maybe their schedules are not as rigorously defined as most species because they come from a place where the sun can be present or absent entirely. This bird seemed to want the daytime rest. We were able to enjoy one hunting during the afternoon for a prolonged period last week at the Jamestown Airport that was unfortunately too far for photos. Individuals of any given species don’t know the “rules” that our books say they must abide by whether it’s when to migrate, eat, sleep, molt, or breed, and we have to keep observing all of them and remembering nothing is a guarantee. Expect the unexpected, learn from it, and share your knowledge.

I added that narration because it’s important to always use care about any wild bird who is trying to feed, rest, or find space for themselves, and this has been a big point of emphasis with Snowy Owls in the last month. As you can see in this illustrated case it’s relatively easy to tell if you’re bothering a Snowy or not, and if they’re relaxing and not paying any attention to you then you’re doing well. In my next entry I’ll post HD video of this bird and how powerful its senses are.


Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch