By Emily Ryland-Langley, director, TWO Bird Experiences.
After the release of Harry Potter in 1997, ‘Hedwig’ became a household name and the pure white, almost mythical, owl became a new obsession for pet keepers and hobbyists around the world.
Unfortunately, while the books did a fantastic job at getting people excited about birds, they did not do the best job at teaching people how to look after them… a bell cage is not the place to keep the largest owl in North America.
Nor can you pick one up at your local pet shop, fully trained and ready to be released over your favourite local landmark and expect them to return on command.
There are many other details from the books and films that painted a different picture to how our Snowy owls really behave and survive in the wild.
Snowy owls are apex, Arctic predators so can be found gliding across the tundra on the northern parts of the globe. Despite having a 5ft wingspan and standing 2ft tall they are perfectly camouflaged in their environment.
The females are heavily barred which allows them to blend among boulders on the tundra floor as they protect chicks in the nest.
The males are almost pure white which allows them to hunt lemmings in the snow.
Now, wild lemmings are not quite as suicidal as certain videogames from the 90s would have you believe. They are quick, quiet and live in a maze of tunnels under the snow.
But they are no match for the Snowy owl – silent, invisible and can remain warm down to -50°C, they have two powerful feet and eight talons at their disposal.
Add this to their pinpoint hearing and it is not surprising that each Snowy owl will catch an average of 8-12 lemmings a day.
Bearing this in mind and heading over to the falconry side of things, I think both me and James (head falconer at Two Owls) can agree that it is ‘snow laughing matter’ if you are late for lunch with an Arctic owl – it’s the cold shoulder for you if mice are on the menu and they are not being served…‘ice and fresh…