Snowy Owl
(Bubo scandiacus)


Picture of bird
© Andrew A Reding - License
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

The Snowy Owl breeds in tundra habitats across northern Canada and across the circumpolar Arctic. Available results from the Christmas Bird Count suggest a large decrease in population since about 1970, though the survey does not cover the northern portion of the species' wintering range. The Snowy Owl has not been re-assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) since it was assessed as Not at Risk in 1995. However, the species was recently listed as globally Vulnerable by the IUCN based on changes in food availability due to climate change, and high mortality rates from collisions with vehicles and infrastructure (BirdLife International 2018). The species is also on several North American watch lists (see below). This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
COSEWIC (Canada)Not at Risk1995 
IUCN (Global)Vulnerable2018 
Partners in Flight (North America)Watch list - yellow D2017 
Wild Species (Canada)Secure2015 
State of North America’s BirdsWatch list2016 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaLarge DecreaseMediumBelow Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada5,000 - 50,000 adults

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Short-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population

General nesting period in Canada

Nesting period starts between late April and mid-May and ends between late July and early August, depending on the region. Before or after this period, the probability of an active nest is lower.

Conservation and management

The availability of lemmings affects reproductive success of Snowy Owls, and lemming abundance cycles are becoming irregular in some parts of the Snowy Owl's range. This breakdown in lemming cycles is potentially related to climate-induced changes in the quality and amount of snow (Post et al. 2009). Disruption of lemming cycles is not yet documented in Canada, but precipitation regimes have changed and are predicted to continue changing as a result of anthropogenic climate change (ACIA 2005). In winter, Snowy Owls collide with vehicles and electrical transmission wires, accounting for 14% and 10% of known mortality respectively (Kerlinger and Lein 1988).


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Arctic Plains and MountainsArctic Plains and Mountains, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NL -- Other
Arctic Plains and MountainsArctic Plains and Mountains, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Stewardship
Arctic Plains and MountainsArctic Plains and Mountains, sub-region and priority type: Quebec -- Stewardship
Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves , sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NL -- Other
Northern Pacific RainforestNorthern Pacific Rainforest, sub-region and priority type: Pacific and Yukon -- Other