Wondernose: What animal has been described as looking stupid, self-satisfied, and cat-like?

by Rebecca Martin | Dec 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Snowy Owl on post
Snowy Owl. Photo © Dogwood Ridge.

So you think that’s an insult to your cat! You don’t consider your cat to be stupid. All right, let’s not focus on the “stupid” part. Our mystery animal looks cat-like because it has big yellow eyes with sharp black pupils. Also, its fluffy white face feathers grow right over the beak, nearly concealing it.

Oops. By talking about beaks and feathers, I’m giving away secrets. Yes, our mystery animal is a bird—and a very well-feathered one, I must say. As I’ve mentioned, the beak is nearly lost beneath feathers. And the legs are covered in fluffy feathers right to the toes. This makes our bird look as if it’s wearing snow pants.

Our bird has need of every bit of its feathery gear. Why? Because its habitat is the cold, snowy tundras of the world—both in North America and in Eurasia. The bird does tend to migrate southward in the very coldest weather. But even the summers are cold on the tundra.

What kind of food is available for a bird of prey on the tundra? Our mystery bird eats mostly lemmings and rabbits. However, as you know, both lemmings and rabbits tend to have cycles when the population is very low. So our bird has no choice but to move southward in search of food. It’s during such times that we occasionally get to see these mystery birds farther south.

Snowy Owl! That’s it. So you’ve seen one of these big fluffy fellows too, Wondernose, perhaps sitting on a fence staring at you. They’re definitely owl-like—yet at the same time, definitely different from other owls. For one thing, Snowy Owls have no ear tufts; their heads are quite round. Then there’s the snow-white plumage, something you don’t see in most other owls. The male Snowy Owl is usually whiter and brighter than the female. She’ll have more dark bars all over her body.

The Snowy Owl is not very well camouflaged, at least not for the summertime. Just think how this white bird would stand out against the dark background of the tundra! As you know, many Arctic animals change coats with the seasons. Not so the Snowy Owl.

Since the female’s plumage is more speckled and barred, she is more camouflaged than the male. You see, she does all the incubating after the eggs are laid. And do you know where Snowy Owls have their nests? Right on the ground, preferably at the top of a rise or hummock. They want to have a good view of their surroundings, where they can spot a predator from a long way off. So, as you can imagine, if the bright white male were sitting there on the ground, he’d be easier to spy.

The chicks, now, they’re well-camouflaged. Sitting in the nest, they look like a pile of gray stones. Their fluffy down is the color of rocks. If they hold still, you could be right on top of them before you’d notice them.

Not that the adult birds would allow you to get close! The father, perching on a shrub near the nest, will see you from a distance. Immediately he will emit harsh barks of alarm. If you continue in their direction, the owls will threaten you by spreading out their wings, fluffing up their feathers, and charging at you. They will fearlessly chase large birds like gulls and ravens.

There may be anywhere from three to thirteen chicks in a clutch. As soon as one egg is laid, incubation begins. Since the last egg may be laid weeks later, the chicks will hatch over a space of time and will vary in size.

Have you thought about this, Wondernose? The Snowy Owl is also different from most owls in that it flies and hunts by day. Can you guess why? That’s right—in summer, the Snowy Owl has no choice. There is almost no night during the summer on the tundra!

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