Searching for Snowy Owls

Updated: Dec 20, 2019

Snowy Owling ain't easy. Especially in Wyoming.

The Snowy Owl


They are charismatic. They are aesthetically pleasing. They are obvious. They are Snowy Owls. In the birding world, they are chased with great effort. In the photography world, they are rare jewels. In Wyoming, Snowy Owls are the ambrosia that makes many birders feel invincible. Unfortunately for us, there are very few reliable records of this Bubo in our delightfully underpopulated state. Why?



Snowy Owl Wintering Habitat


Snowy Owls are creatures of the tundra. They prefer vast, open spaces with few on-ground obstructions (like sagebrush). In wintertime, in most states, Snowy Owls are found in and around ag fields, grasslands, and large frozen water bodies... Both of those are rare in Wyoming. However, one side of our state does have a somewhat suitable habitat for these birds, and it has the lowest abundance of birders. Ouch.



Where to Find Snowy Owls

This map shows the counties most likely to experience a Snowy Owl each winter. The darker the color, the greater the chance a Snowy Owl occurs.

The Great Plains and High Plains ecoregions occur in the eastern counties of the state. These ecoregions provide fertile growing grounds for the major cash crops. These grasslands and croplands provide the recipe we need for Snowy Owl occurrences. However, as you travel west, your chances drop drastically for Snowy Owls unless you visit Big Horn and/or Washakie county. They present a higher statistical probability for a Snowy Owl occurrence due to their significant cropland areas.


How to Search for Snowy Owls


This is the toughest advice to offer a birder who asks. How do I tell someone where to look for a bird that is likely not located where I point my finger? I provide the best information possible, and I hope they have an amazing set of peepers.


If pressed, these are the suggestions for where to look for Snowy Owls when birding in the appropriate habitats:



Structures

  1. Fence Posts - Snowy Owls are frequently seen on fence posts. Why? They are a strong vantage point usually found near appropriate wintering habitat.

  2. Power Poles - Snowy Owls want a prominent place to watch for prey. Power poles often provide them a great vantage point.

  3. Hay Stacks - See above. Vantage. Proper habitat. All the other hubbub.

  4. Pivots - Rinse. Repeat.

  5. Field - This can be tougher. If a Snowy Owl is sitting in a snow-packed field, they can be almost invisible. However, you can see them roosting like this frequently.

  6. Any other large white blob - Don't overlook any blobs you see in the distance. You never know where these birds will show up. (Looking at you Hawaii.)


There is one place I often tell people to waste their time...

Trees. I never tell birders to look in trees. Why? I've only seen a few Snowy Owls using a tree. Imagine my shock when I saw the bird above. This shows, never overlook an area. If you see a big white bird, glass it.


Time of Day


Yes, you can see Snowy Owls all day, but realistically, we can see most owl species during any time of the day. However, Snowy Owls are most active during the morning and late afternoon. You still have a good chance of finding them in daylight hours due to their obvious perches.


Begin Your Search


Snowy Owls are arriving in states to the north and east of us. By mid-December, your chance of finding a Snowy Owl increases. If you want to see a Snowy Owl this winter, here is my recipe:


  • One Part - Travel to the eastern counties

  • Four Parts - Drive every country road through the ag fields

  • Two Parts - Scope any elevated structure

  • One Part - Wait until mid-December

  • One Part - Invite me on your mission!



This Snowy Owl began its hunt at sunset.

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