Bird Sightings : Hebrides : Snowy Owl
(Arctic Owl, Great White Owl, Catyogle, Child's Snowman, Arctia Owl, Ermine Owl, Great White Owl, Harfang, Snowl Owl, Wapachthu, White Owl)
Photograph © Roddy Maclean
Uig - Isle of lewis - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
14th May, 2008
I watched this bird on the moorland in Uig, Lewis. It was there for 4 consecutive days between 18th and 21st May . On the next day I could not find it . It is I think an adult male snowy owl.. When I first saw it I was in fact trying to photograph a golden eagle and was lining up my shot using a white stone as a guide. The stone turned out to be my owl and the two birds were within 30 yds of each other. What a thrill. Can you confirm if this is quite a rarity or are many birds confirmed nowadays?
We get two or three of these Snowy Owls in most years, generally the areas are Grenitote (South Uist), Melbost Borve - Brue (Lewis) and Mangersta (Lewis). The BTO list 3 records annually for the whole of the UK, and from 1958 to 2004 the official British recording committee included only a total of 159 records.
People often travel up to the islands just because there is a chance they might see one. There are not many things that are more exciting to find in the lens than the Eagles!
Our Snowy Owl photographs
- Snowy Owl
- Nyctea scandiaca, Bubo scandiacus
- Gaelic: Comhachag-bhan
- UK: 3 records a year (BTO) (1958-2004 total of 159 records)
- UK: accidental, former breeder
- WI: Scarce vagrant (very small numbers recorded in most years) TBC
- Distribution: Primarily resident circumpolar - North of the Arctic Circle. Europe, North Asia, North North America. Nomadic bird - shortage of prey forces it to more Southern tundra breeding sites. Nests on ground - a scrape on a mound, rock or gravel bar. (Areas with good visibility & good hunting). An abandoned eagle nest sometimes used. Breeds in May, laying 5 -14 eggs). Winter: fields & prairie
- Diet: Hunting style "sitting and waiting", bird has sharp talons & catches prey on ground, in air or fish from surface of water. Lemmings, voles & other rodents, small birds , fish, carrion
- All white. Upright stance. Body barrel-shaped. Head rounded. Eyes yellow & staring. Bill black. Male almost pure white. Female (largest bird) & young covered with narrow black bars & crescent-shaped spots. Heavily feathered feet (together with bird's thick plumage suitable for life in the Arctic)
A nesting pair were found on the Island of Fetlar in Shetland in 1967. During the next few years they bred and and fledged 23 young. A second female joined them in 1972, but she was unsuccessful in fledging her young - perhaps because the male could not provide for two broods. The male left in 1976, and did not return. An immature male was later found nearby but did not join the two females. (see Birds Britannica)
BBRC Snowy Owl records 1990-2006
3, 4, 1, 5, 5, 1, 4, 3, 1, 1, 1, 3, 0, 1, 1, 7, 2,
Up to 6 Snowy Owls were recorded in The Western Isles in 2006. Times do change, there is an old record of a gamekeeper in Ness shooting 3 Snowy Owls in one day (see Peter Cunningham's: Birds of the Outer Hebrides).
Makes a sound called "clapping" when threatened or annoyed (the sound is probably made by clicking of the tongue).
If prey is small enough the Snowy Owl usually swallows it whole, the bird's stomach juices digesting the flesh and it's gut compacting the fur, bones etc into a pellet which it then regurgitates. The owl frequently uses the same perch to regurgitate from, so there may be a lot of pellets marking this area.
Snowy Owl records in the Western Isles
Scarce vagrant (very small numbers recorded in most years) TBC
The chart below shows how abundant the Snowy Owl is during a month or when you are more likely to see it.
(Source: Outer Hebrides Birds Checklist)
Other local bird photographs
Sources of information for the bird sightings section