When on their summer range in the treeless arctic tundra, Snowy Owls prefer to nest on high ground. An elevated site will be dryer and free of snow sooner than a lowland site, conditions that favor hunting and nesting success. A reconnaissance of the local wintering habitat illustrated the importance of high ground on winter range as well. A warm spell in late February reduced the snow pack considerably, exposing small patches of bare ground on wind-swept knolls and hilltops. I discovered an immature male hunting one of these bare spots in bright, mid-morning sun, and made the most of the opportunity.
Mr. Snowy was “mousing”, i.e. searching for any of several species of small mammals, including mice, voles and shrews.
Like a “sleeping” cat, this restful pose can be deceptive. The flight of a bird overhead or the faint squeak of a vole under the snow could alter the scene dramatically.
Abruptly, a tall profile and intense stare were triggered by movement and/or sound – I can’t be certain. Guided by his reaction, I got a glimpse of something small and dark, scurrying briefly across the surface of the ground before disappearing in a maze of debris, mud and snow. I guessed it to be a Meadow Vole.
The chase was on! Impressively, the short distance was covered in a few powerful wing beats. Patient hunting on the high ground during a winter thaw fed the young owl.
Hunting in partially thawed mud can be messy, requiring an occasional pit stop to groom feet and talons!.
To be continued ……….!
Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.