Seasonal movements of female snowy owls breeding in the western north American arctic

Frank I. Doyle, Jean François Therrien, Donald G. Reid, Gilles Gauthier, Charles J. Krebs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


The Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) is a circumpolar raptor that nests in Arctic tundra. Satellite tracking of nesting Snowy Owls in Alaska and eastern Canada has allowed researchers to document the widely nomadic movements of these owls between summer and winter ranges. This study expands that knowledge for Snowy Owls in the western Canadian Arctic. Based on previous studies, we predicted that owls: (1) would not have strong fidelity to specific winter or summer ranges; (2) would travel widely in search of breeding and nonbreeding areas at which they would settle for considerable time (months); (3) would choose areas to settle based on prey concentration; and (4) would use a mix of overwintering strategies, with some staying in Arctic and boreal regions, and some migrating south. Movement patterns of four female owls captured at nesting sites on Herschel Island, Yukon Territory, Canada, supported the first two predictions. The third prediction was partly supported: some sites of summer settlement were located where prey was relatively abundant, whereas other selected sites did not appear to have enough prey for successful nesting. The latter sites may have been the best available in those areas, however. Sites of winter settlement generally overlapped regions with high abundance of snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) or ptarmigan (Lagopus spp.), and were located in relatively open alpine, subalpine, or wetland environments, where prey were likely most accessible. Contrary to our last prediction, all four study owls settled in boreal Alaska and the northern Yukon Territory. This pattern contrasts with observations that eastern North American Snowy Owls rarely wintered in the boreal biome. This study highlights the need to better understand the habitat choices and food habits of wintering Snowy Owls in the northern boreal mountains.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)428-438
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Raptor Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes


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