Snowy owls nest in the Arctic tundra of the northernmost stretches of Alaska, Canada, and Eurasia. They winter south through Canada and northern Eurasia, with irruptions occurring further south in some years. Snowy owls are attracted to open areas like coastal dunes and prairies that appear somewhat similar to tundra. They have been reported as far south as the American states of Texas, Georgia, the American Gulf states, southernmost Russia, and northern China. In the Late Pleistocene the range expanded southward to Bulgaria (80,000–16,000 years, Kozarnika Cave, W Bulgaria).
Hunting and Diet
The snowy owl is a patient hunter that perches and waits to identify its prey before soaring off in pursuit. Snowy owls have keen eyesight and great hearing, which can help them find prey that is invisible under thick vegetation or snowcover. The owls deftly snatch their quarry with their sharp talons. A snowy owl's preferred meal is lemmings—many lemmings. An adult may eat more than 1,600 lemmings a year, or three to five every day. The birds supplement their diet with rabbits, rodents, birds, and fish.
These magnificent owls sometimes remain year-round in their northern breeding grounds, but they are frequent migrants to Canada, the northern United States, Europe, and Asia. Lemming availability may determine the extent of southern migration, when owls take up summer residence on open fields, marshes, and beaches.