Snow is in the forecast at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, WA, with the hatching of a Snowy Owl chick on June 13! The chick marks the first offspring between the mom, estimated to be 22 years old, and the father, 14 years old. It's gender has not been determined.
“At this time the chick isn’t visible to visitors because the mom is sitting on the nest and providing very good care,” curator Jennifer Pramuk said in a statement from the Zoo. “Our expert zookeepers are monitoring the owlet, which appears to be in good health. It’s growing very quickly, so visitors should be able to spot it in a week or two.”
In zoos, the Snowy Owl population experienced a dramatic decline due to West Nile virus, which is spread by infected mosquitoes to birds. Owls and hawks were especially susceptible to the virus, causing acute death. Few zoos have been successful in breeding Snowy Owls within recent years.
The fluffy white Snowy Owl is the heaviest North American Owl and one of the largest in overall size. Males are nearly pure white and the female's white plumage is highlighted with dark brown bars and spots. The Snowy Owl prefers open areas for its breeding range, including tundra and grasslands. During winter it seeks treeless habitat to the south, including prairies, marshes or shorelines.
This species of owl is migratory and nomadic. Every seven to 10 years, the Arctic-dwelling Snowy Owl appears in Washington state during winter months in large numbers, known as an "irruption," a period when young owls leave their breeding range in search of food.
Well adapted to live in harsh tundra environments, Snowy Owls face few threats and their populations are stable. This changes, however, as these raptors migrate south and come into contact with human civilization. Although not a threat to the species, Snowy Owls die from flying into utility lines, wire fences, automobiles, airplanes (at airports) and other human structures. Some owls are even killed by hunters; changes in the arctic climate also may be a looming threat for this species. Owls in general are in decline because of habitat loss, introduced disease and poisoning from improperly used rodent poison.
Many raptor species are facing decline due to human-imposed activities. Raptors provide many benefits. "Raptors are top predators of the food chain so they're an indicator species of their overall ecosystems," explained Pramuk. "They consume many animals that humans consider as pests, such as rodents and destructive insects, and they help keep animal populations in balance. It's hard to imagine a world without these majestic birds of prey."