By ILONA BRAY
As snow begins falling in many parts of the world, there’s one creature that’s already got its camouflage ready: the snowy owl. Only its yellow-black eyes, black beak, and dark talons give the male snowy owl away, while nearly all of its feathers are as white as you-know-what. That makes the snowy owl hard to spot in the Arctic part of North America, where it lives for all or most of the year. Females have more dark feathers mixed in with the white, but are still well dressed for hiding out in their icy, mostly treeless home in the north.
Here are some more fun facts about the snowy owl:
Fact: They’re active both day and night. Most owls are nocturnal, meaning they come out only at night. But snowy owls are also diurnal—they hunt and fly during the day, too. Of course, during the Arctic summers the sun almost never sets, so waiting for darkness wouldn’t do them any good.
Fact: They can catch prey even under the snow. With their great hearing and eyesight, they detect and swoop in to catch lemmings rabbits and rodents. They also hunt other birds, insects and fish.
Fact: They build nests right on the ground. Did we mention there aren’t many trees in the Arctic? So they find an elevated spot, scrape into the ground a bit, and sometimes add dried plants and moss before laying their eggs. The parents move slowly and watchfully around the nest, to avoid catching the eyes of predators like foxes or ravens.
Fact: Their wingspan is wider than most kids are tall. Their average length from wingtip to wingtip is between four and five feet.
Fact: They’re not the only creature with snow-white camouflage. Polar bears, Arctic wolves, Arctic foxes, Arctic hare, ptarmigans (Alaska’s state bird), tundra swans and the especially rare snow leopards (found in the mountains of Central Asia) are among the other animals that sport white camouflage for all or part of the year.