An endearing symbol of the great white north, the Snowy Owl nests around the polar region in open, rocky tundra. Although it is notoriously difficult to estimate population size and trend for this iconic species, recent data and estimates suggest that the Snowy Owl population is much smaller than previously thought and declining. It is now listed as “Vulnerable” to global extinction. We do not fully understand why this magnificent species is in decline but the impact of climate change on the Arctic food web may play a role. Mortality from collisions with vehicles and infrastructure may also have an impact.
Most North Americans only see the Snowy Owl in winter when they fly south to southern Canada and the northern U.S.A., typically choosing open habitats (with few trees) that look like their Arctic nesting grounds. In some winters, “irruptions” may bring large numbers to certain areas, sometimes well south of their usual winter range. Interestingly, recent tracking data has shown that some Snowy Owls linger in the north year-round and that they travel out onto open sea ice to hunt sea ducks at polynyas.
Primary Habitats:Breeding: Arctic tundra
Wintering: Generalist, Agricultural
Population Loss Since 1970: 64%
Urgency/Half Life: N/A
Global Conservation Status: IUCN 2019-1 – Vulnerable
U.S. Conservation Status: N/A
Canadian Conservation Status: N/A
Birds of Conservation Concern: USFWS – Bird of Conservation Concern
|Region||Area Importance||Long-term Population Change||Half Life|
|Prairie Pothole Joint Venture||AI=5||***||***|
*** indicates insufficient or unreliable data to calculate a regional long-term change or half-life estimate.
AI=# indicates the area importance for wintering populations on a scale from 1 to 5.
International Snowy Owl Working Group
Christmas Bird Count (U.S.A.): Snowy Owl is one of the Arctic species monitored by citizen-science in winter
Species Conservation Plans:
Key Species References:
Peer Reviewed Papers:
BirdLife International (2019). Species factsheet: Bubo scandiacus. IUCN Red List for birds.
Birds of North America (BNA) Species Account