Snowy Owl Nyctea scandiaca
The Snowy Owl is one of the most beautiful of all birds of prey. It is a large bird, 21 to 28 inches tall, and has a wingspan of 50 to 65 inches. When perched, the bird has a smooth, heavy appearance. Its head is rounded and lacks feather tufts. It has bright yellow eyes, a black beak, and thickly feathered legs and feet. Male and female Snowys can be told apart, something which is not always possible in other species. The female is larger than the male, as in all owls, but the recognizable difference is that the adult male is almost pure white, while the female has dark, heavy flecking. The Snowy Owl is a bird of the Canadian tundra, but can occasionally be found in New Jersey during the winter. It prefers open country such as fields, pastures, coastal beaches and airports. These winter visits to our state depend on the availability of food in its Arctic home, not on the severe weather there, which the bird is well equipped to endure. Periodically, in cycles of from four to eight years, the populations of the Snowy's usual northern prey species decline. Then these owls begin a southward movement in search of food, and we are afforded a chance to see one of nature's masterpieces.