South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Snowy Owl

Bubo scandiacus

Length: 20 - 27 inches Wingspan: 54 - 66 inches Seasonality: Winter
ID Keys: All white plumage, females with dark barring.  Lacks ear tufts.

Snowy Owl - Bubo scandiacusSnowy Owls are irregular winter visitors to South Dakota and to the lower 48 states in general, with numbers varying widely from year to year.  In years of low lemming populations in its normal Canada range, numbers of Snowy Owls may be seen well south of the Canadian border.  Females and young males show significant dark barring, but older males may be almost completely white.

Habitat: Prairies, fields, marshes, beaches, frozen lakes.  In summer on breeding grounds, nests on the open tundra.

Diet: May feed almost exclusively on lemmings in Arctic range.  Feeds on rabbits, hares, voles, ground squirrels, and various birds on wintering grounds. 

Behavior: Unlike many owls, they very often hunt during the day.  Hunts by watching from a perch and swooping down when prey is spotted, or, less frequently, by flying low and surprising prey.

Breeding: Non-breeder in South Dakota

Song: Usually silent in South Dakota (outside of breeding season).

Migration: Most live in extreme northern Canada, with some wintering throughout Canada and down into the northern United States.

Interactive eBird Map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Snowy Owl sightings

Similar Species: Can be confused with the light colored Barn Owl.  There are also extremely light-colored, subarctic race of the Great Horned Owl which could potentially be confused with a Snowy Owl.

Conservation Status: Generally stable throughout its normal range.

South Dakota "Hotspot": The Fort Pierre National Grasslands south of  Pierre often harbor Snowy Owls during the winter months.  They are also often found around Lake Oahe, especially when open water attracts waterfowl during the winter months.  Typically, however, there is a gradient of increased sightings as you go further north in the state.

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Snowy Owl

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Snowy Owl"

3) Snowy Owl

Photo Information: December 30th, 2011 - Near Lake Andes, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Snowy Owl photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Snowy Owl - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Irregular winter visitor, never common, but more common in the northern part of the state than in the south.