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Snowy Owl Pellet

3-25-14 snowy owl  203Your knowledgeable ID skills regarding yesterday’s Mystery Photo were most impressive!

Snowy Owls are the heaviest owls in North America, weighing roughly 4 pounds (a Great Gray Owl is only 2.4 pounds). A lot of fuel is needed to power this magnificent raptor. In the Arctic, where they live, lemmings are their preferred prey — one owl may eat more than 1,600 of these small rodents in a single year. This winter the Northeast has experienced record numbers of visiting Snowy Owls. A banner year for the Arctic lemming population followed by prolific nesting success for Snowy Owls resulted in an unprecedented “irruption” of these owls further south this winter.

While we do have lemmings in New England, they are uncommon, so Snowy Owls have relied on our small rodent, squirrel, rabbit and hare populations for food. Those owls wintering on the coast, where dunes and moors closely resemble their tundra habitat, have also taken advantage of the large number of sea ducks. As witnessed and described by Nantucket ornithologist Edie Ray, the owls fly up to great heights over the sea, spot waterfowl and then plummet down to just above the surface of the ocean where they sink their talons into a “sitting duck.” As a result, the indigestible bones, teeth and nails of prey are protectively wrapped in feathers as well as fur in the large pellets coughed up by these owls. (Snowy Owl locators: Edie Ray and Sadie Richards; Snowy Owl pellet finder: Sadie Richards)

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5 responses

  1. Peter Kallin


    We have had a number of Snowys around here this winter. Here is a photo taken of one by a friend of mine, Alex Wall. He spotted it in the fog in a large marsh nearby and got this wonderful picture. Please contact Alex for permission if you would like to use his picture for anything other than personal pleasure.



    March 25, 2014 at 12:55 pm

  2. Linda Holland

    Great comments. The owl appears to be smiling. I think he’s cute.

    March 25, 2014 at 3:04 pm

  3. Janet

    Has anyone dissected pellets from these local snowy owls to ID their prey? I’d love to see the bones from a single pellet. Dissecting and identifying the contents of Barn Owl pellets was a favorite project of my fifth graders in years past.

    March 25, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    • Yes, that’s being done with Nantucket’s pellets, at least.

      March 25, 2014 at 9:29 pm

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