In June, keepers at Zoo Osnabrück, in Germany, made the observation that their Snowy Owl was no longer attempting to incubate the three eggs she laid in her nest. Staff removed the eggs, and an incubator took over the work, warming the eggs at 37.5 degrees Celsius. The owlets began emerging from their eggs on July 12, and the youngest hatched on July 14.
Andreas Wulftange, research associate, said, “I had to feed them four times a day. They cried for attention and craned their beaks, demanding food. You can hear them before you see them.”
Staff are currently attempting to teach them the ways of being a predatory bird. The owlets practice balancing on logs, placed on ground level. For now, they are only able to hop about their aviary, but some flight feathers are starting to emerge on their fuzzy bodies.
Wulftange, a trained falconer, continued, “We want to enable the Snowy Owlets free flight and let them fly over the zoo grounds, so visitors can see how these special birds silently glide through the air and land with pinpoint accuracy.”
The trio will remain in the aviary until they have matured and grown the feathers they need to master flight.
The Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) is a large white owl of the typical owl family. They are native to Arctic regions in North America and Eurasia. Younger owls start with darker plumage, which turns lighter as they mature. Males are mostly white, while adult females have more flecks of gray plumage.
Snowy Owls are highly nomadic and their movements are tied to locating their prey. The powerful bird relies on lemmings and other small rodents for food during the breeding season. At times of low prey density, they may switch to eating juvenile ptarmigan. Like other birds, they swallow their prey whole. Strong stomach juices digest the flesh, while the indigestible bones, teeth, fur, and feathers are compacted into oval pellets that the bird regurgitates 18 to 24 hours after feeding.
Their mating season is in May, and eggs are incubated for about 32 days. The size of the clutch varies, depending on food availability. Only females incubate the eggs. The male provides the female and young with food. Young owls begin to leave the nest around 25 to 26 days after hatching. They are not able to fly until at least 50 days of age. They continue to be fed by the parents for another 5 weeks after they leave the nest.
The Snowy Owl is currently classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They face threats from climate change, as changing temperatures affect both their habitat and their prey. Other threats include automobile collisions, utility line collision, and gunshot. Recent reports say they are being illegally killed for their eyes and feet, which are traded in Asian markets.