The snowy owl is one of the most distinct and recognizable owls in the world, but despite its familiarity, it can be surprisingly difficult to identify in the field. This raptor's superb camouflage helps shield it against notice, but birders who are familiar with its field marks can easily identify snowy owls.
Male Snowy Owl Identification
Male snowy owls are superbly camouflaged and have few field marks that are easily noticeable. It is that lack of field marks, however, that often helps birders identify these owls properly.
- Yellow Eyes: The brilliant yellow eyes of the snowy owl are one of its most distinct features. The pupil is dark but can be hard to see, and the overall brightness of the eyes stands out well against the bird's light face.
- Dark Bill: The snowy owl has a dark, sharply hooked bill that pokes out of its light face. The amount of bill that is visible can vary widely, however, and birds that are colder or subject to more wind may be showing very little bill.
- Round Head: The snowy owl has a very round head and when the bird is perched in its typical huddled posture, there appears to be very little neck.
- White Plumage: Male snowy owls are almost pure white, though the younger the bird, the more black spotting or barring it may show. This coloration helps conceal the birds perfectly in their tundra habitat, and birders must look carefully for shape and other markings when the plumage blends in to the background.
- Round Shape: Overall, the snowy owl has a large, round shape. Depending on the angle from which the bird is viewed, it may seem more like an oval or tapered shape, but the round head and short tail are always distinct.
Photo – Male Snowy Owl © Erich Ferdinand