Winter Havens for Snowy Owls

Snowy owls are many things – a stunning white raptor with catlike yellow eyes, the largest owl in North America, even a star in the beloved Harry Potter books and films.

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Snowy owls have been known to fly several hundred miles in one day. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Chris Thayer.

This majestic species often nests and raises its young in the open expanses of the Arctic tundra. But, in some winters, snowy owls seek out safe havens south of the U.S.-Canada border, showing up all along our northern border, across the Midwest and in places along the Atlantic coastline that mimic the tundra. Here are a few places they’ve turned up!

Northeast Coastline

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A juvenile male snowy owl at New York’s Jones beach in the winter. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant John Stahl.

Snowy owls can show up in winter on the beaches and open spaces in the Northeast. The wide open spaces of the Great Marsh of coastal Massachusetts – especially Plum Island – are snowy owl heaven. People flock to the Great Marsh to see snowy owls under blustery conditions when they appear there. Sadly, this 20,000 acre wildlife habitat area is one of many in our country threatened by pollution and development, and we are working hard to protect and restore Great Marsh and similarly fragile coastal ecosystems.

Midwest Farm Fields

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Some snowy owls spend the entire winter on the same farm. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Kim LeBlanc.

Snowy farm fields work perfectly as wintering grounds, offering visiting snowy owls acres and acres of treeless habitat. Few people and little development or noise helps, too. Snowy owls use their hearing to hunt, and can hear a mouse under a foot of snow at over a hundred yards. So the quieter, the better!

Great Lakes Open Spaces

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Snowy owl on the lookout for rabbits and mice in an open field. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Lynn Cleveland.

For snowy owls, our Great Lakes region is just a hop, skip and a jump from the Arctic north. Windswept open spaces from North Dakota across to Michigan are favorites for wintering snowy owls.  Because they often sit right on the ground to hunt, snowy owls prefer rolling terrain where they can find a vantage spot to survey the surrounding area.

Snowy Owls Need Your Help!

Snowy owls are in steep decline and vulnerable to habitat loss and climate change. If we fail to conserve the landscapes that wildlife need for survival, cherished species like snowy owls might not make it.

The National Wildlife Federation is leading efforts to conserve habitat for this enchanting creature and other wildlife that depend upon open space and coastal ecosystems. Will you help?

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