Snowy 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
Diet: May feed almost exclusively on lemmings in Arctic range. Feeds on
rabbits, hares, voles, ground squirrels, and various birds on wintering
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. In
the nest of a Snowy Owl is a raised area, typically a mound
or hummock ont he tundra. The nest is a simple depression with no lining.
The female lays between 3 and 10 eggs, with more eggs being laid when lemmings
are more abundant. The female alone incubates the eggs. When the eggs
hatch, the female stays with the young while the male brings food. The
young fledge after about 8 weeks.
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.
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
Cornell University's "All About Birds - Snowy Owl"
eNature.com: 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.