Ookpik – Snowy Owl
Ookpik originally came to the World Bird Sanctuary from the Denver Zoo. Ookpik is the Inuit word for owl. At one time Snowy Owls were believed to be the only member of a distinct genus. A recent DNA study has shown that they are very closely related to members of the genus Bubo, such as the Great Horned Owl and the Eurasian Eagle Owl. Ookpik is currently on winter display in one of the large outdoor avian exhibits.
Species: Snowy Owl
Latin Name: Nyctea scandiaca
Description: large, diurnal, white owl with a rounded head; yellow eyes and black bill; feet heavily feathered; overall plumage variably barred or speckled with thin, black, horizontal bars or spots; adult males almost pure white; adult females distinctly barred throughout with four to six tail bands; juveniles uniformly brown with scattered white tips of down
Sex: females somewhat larger than males
Age: up to 9.5 years in the wild; up to 35 years in captivity
Weight: 2.5-4.5 lbs.
Habitat: the Arctic tundra or open grasslands and fields; windswept tundra when wintering in the Arctic; agricultural areas at more southerly latitudes
Status: locally abundant during good lemming years; rare at some locations during low lemming years
Range: Arctic regions of the old and new worlds; highly nomadic, depending on the lemming and vole population; cyclical appearance in southern Canada and northern U.S. approximately every 3-5 years coinciding with lemming population crashes
Behavior: courtship behavior includes aerial displays and ground displays, including feeding the female; nests almost exclusively on the ground; nests lined with vegetation and Owl feathers; breeding in May; 5 to as many as 14 eggs are laid, depending on lemming availability; female incubates; eggs hatch in 32-34 days; young leave the nest after 25 days; fledge at 50-60 days; both parents feed young
Diet: mostly lemmings and voles; opportunistic and known to take prey ranging in size from small mammals and birds up to and including snowshoe hares; adult owl may eat around 3-5 lemmings per day
Vocalization: virtually silent during non-breeding season; during breeding the male has a loud booming “hoo, hoo”; females rarely hoot; the attack call is a gutteral “kruff-guh-guh-guk”; when excited it emits a loud “hooo-uh, hooo-uh, hooo-uh, wuh-whu-wuh”
- A Snowy Owl family may eat up to 1500 lemmings during one nesting season
- Recent reports indicate these birds are being illegally killed for their eyes and feet, which are traded in Asian markets