Tundra is a male Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) who
came to the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital in December of
2011. He was most likely hit by a car, and had two injuries to
his left wing – a fractured humerus and a dislocated elbow. The
humerus healed well, but the dislocation is irreparable. Because
Tundra can no longer fully extend his left wing, he will never
be able to fly.
Male and female snowy owls are somewhat color dimorphic. Young
males have a white bib and a white spot on the back of the head,
with dark brown barring on the rest of the body which fades as
they get older. Old male snowy owls can become almost pure
white. Female snowy owls keep the dark bars throughout their
life. While there is some overlap, the whitest snowy owls will
always be males, and the darkest owls will always be female. All
snowy owls have bright yellow eyes.
The snowy owl is considered the largest and heaviest owl in
North America. The great horned owl and the great gray owl come
close, but neither quite has the body mass or wingspan to
compare to the snowy.
Snowy owls spend the summer in the very far northern reaches of
the Arctic, where they breed. In the winter they migrate south,
but usually only as far as southern Canada. However, these owls
will occasionally have a very successful breeding year, and a
sudden increase in population will cause them to spread much
farther south into the United States. Tundra was found near
Spokane during one of these population events, known as an
"irruption". In the winter of 2011-2012, snowy owls were seen as
far south as Idaho, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Massachusets.
Snowy owls nest on open ground in a shallow depression called a
"scrape". They do not nest on the snow. They will fiercely
defend their nest from predators, including wolves. Their main
prey is the lemming. When necessary, they will also hunt other
small rodents, rabbits, waterfowl, or even fish. The owl will
sit for most of the day, watching and listening for food. When
prey is spotted, they will swoop silently down to catch it in
their powerful talons. Like the great gray owl, the snowy owl
can detect rodents tunneling under the snow completely by sound.
They are able to fly down and "punch" through the snow to catch