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Timeline of the 2022 Snowy Owl Breeding Season

Notes and observations from ORI's Snowy Owl field crew: Denver, Chloe, Solai, and ORI volunteers


This Snowy Owl nest is located near Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow), Alaska, and is part of ORI's long-term study on Snowy Owl and Brown Lemming Breeding Ecology.


Learn more, ask questions about Snowy Owls, and watch the nest live online 24/7:


 

June

June 16, 2022

Early in the morning we first saw the male and female Snowy Owls roosting near a potential nest site. A male Snowy Owl was observed to fly nearby and hoot. The female did nothing. Later that morning, the owls were seen roosting in the same area on the tundra. That evening, as Denver investigated the potential nest site, he found a fresh scrape on the mound. The female was nearby but was not interested in Denver. The female was seen flying away and Denver observed her either carrying prey or having a brood patch. As Denver left the site to a distanced observation area, the female was sitting on the tundra. Denver wasn't sure if the female laid eggs and abandoned or possibly never laid at all. No lemmings were seen.



June 18, 2022

Denver observed the female on the mound. It's likely she laid her first egg sometime between the 17th and 18th of June.


Usually, by this time (mid-June) Snowy Owls are hatching, this nest is a month behind schedule. This is the latest nesting attempt we have ever seen.


June 17/18- June 29

Sometime between June 17th/18th and June 29, the female Snowy Owl laid 6 eggs. Laying every other day. We continued to monitor, measuring eggs, prey, and observing behavior.

An all-white male Snowy Owl perches upright on the ground looking straight at the camera.
The male Snowy Owl keeping a close eye on researchers as they approach the nest. Photo by Jennifer Sperry.

July

July 5, 2022


July 17, 2022

Routine nest check visit, about 31 days after the female laid her first egg. The first pipped egg was observed, finally hatching on the 18th. We observed an increase in prey deliveries from the male, with 5x as many prey items.


July 20, 2022

We saw two chicks and one egg with a fracture. The parents remained close by and the female returned to the nest immediately once we left.



July 23, 2022


July 26, 2022


July 28, 2022

Pile of Snowy Owl chicks in the nest.
In this photo from July 28, the youngest chick (2 or 3 days old) is underneath its older siblings- you can just barely see a tiny bit of it on the left of the pile. The last egg, visible in the very front of the photo, should hatch very soon (maybe even has already)! When the researchers were at the nest they could see it moving around and hear it chirping.

5 chicks were at the nest with another pipping! The chicks were aged between 11 days to 3 days. While Denver and Chloe worked diligently on the cam, Solai was attentive to the chicks. They were in and out of the area in less than 20 minutes. The female returned within a minute after the team left! The weather is still inclement- hopefully, it will subside soon.


The oldest chick is now about 11 days old, and has started to open its eyes.


July 31,2022

As of today, all 6 chicks have hatched, with the oldest being about 14 days old, and the youngest about 3 days old. As the researchers approached the nest within 20 meters, the male Snowy Owl dove at them twice; luckily, no talons made contact! He was very vocal, barking and hooting frequently. Both the male and female were cooperative during the nest check and roosted nearby. The female returned to the nest promptly after they left the area.


Today there were 8 prey items cached at the nest: 7 brown lemmings (1 female, 6 male) and one Pectoral Sandpiper. Warm weather is on the forecast this week for Utqiagvik, with highs in the 40s and lows in the 30s with scattered fog. Be on the lookout soon for a new video showing what takes place during our nest checks!


August

August 1, 2022

August 3, 2022

Today is a warm, yet windy day on the tundra, with a high temperature of 54 degrees F and winds up to 20 mph. At this morning's nest check, the male got bold and swooped down at the field crew, whacking Solai in the back (clothes still intact, and no one was injured!).


3 prey items were cached at the nest today: one brown lemming, and two collared lemmings.


All 6 chicks were huddled up together, with the oldest now being 17 days old and the youngest 6 days old. Chicks usually leave the nest on foot at about 21 days, so we may start to see that soon!



August 6, 2022

Today is quite cold here in Utqiagvik. The high is 39F with a humidity of 81% and a west wind of 17mph.


The male Snowy Owl was quite defensive today, diving three times at our crew and fully walloping one of us on the back. Luckily it was quick swipe and no jackets were punctured or harm done to the researcher. The female remained quite far, at 240m, and the male 45m away.


All six chicks were accounted for: aged 20 days old to 9 days old. Two prey items were at the nest, both male brown lemmings. Once we wrapped up and left the female returned shortly after with a lemming!


A pile of Snowy Owl chicks, of different ages, huddled together on the tundra. The oldest has its eyes open; the youngest does not.

August 8, 2022

The crew conducted the nest check a day early, because the weather forecast shows rain and snow for later in the week, and they will not be visiting the nest until the weather clears. Today was a beautiful day in Utqiagvik, a warm 46 degrees F, with an east wind at 12 mph and a humidity of 63%.


As we approached the nest the male Snowy Owl was defensive, diving three times at the crew but did not talon grab. The male barked and hooted numerous times. The female observed from afar (and Solai thought she heard the female vocalize a bark before they departed).


Some of the chicks are getting old enough to start exploring. The oldest three chicks were out of the nest when we arrived - the oldest chick had made it far enough away that it took Chloe and Solai a few minutes to find them. Chick 1 (the oldest) had departed the mound and was ~20 m away, Chick 2 also departed the mound and was ~10m away, Chick 3 was still on the mound but no longer in the nest bowl. Chick 4, 5, and 6 were still in the nest. Snowy Owl chicks will leave the nest on foot at around 21 days, but will stay in the area and continue to be fed and looked after by the parents. It isn't until 44-55 days old that these chicks will be able to fly.


The three oldest chicks were old enough to be banded today, and the younger three chicks will be banded later on.


2 prey items were at the nest today, both brown lemmings. The male was defensive over the crew's presence as usual, with a few dives down at them, but today he did not make contact. Once they departed the female returned promptly to the nest and her chicks.



August 10, 2022



August 13, 2022

Due to bad weather, the live cam has been in-and-out of service. Over the next few days, more rain and snow are expected. There have been issues with the batteries not working (and we need sun for the solar panels....) so hopefully the weather clears soon!


After Chloe and Solai swapped out the batteries and got the cam going, they were able to check on the nest. The four youngest chicks were huddled together just behind the nest bowl, but out of sight of the camera on the side of the mound. Chick 1 (oldest, 27 days) and Chick 2 had both wandered quite far from the nest. At this point, they are getting very good at quickly running away from the researchers! Despite their distance from the nest, the parents are aware of their location and are still looking after them and feeding them.


The male Snowy Owl continuously barked and swooped down towards the crew, showing great defensive behavior.


Today they banded the 4th and 5th chicks. Chick 6 (youngest, 16 days) is still not quite old enough, but will be banded soon.



August 17, 2022


After they replaced the battery in the cam, Chloe and Solai checked the nest. They were able to find 4 of the 6 chicks, but Chick 1 and Chick 3 were unaccounted for. Because some of their time near the nest was devoted to attempted camera maintenance, they didn’t want to risk disrupting the owls more than necessary and left before locating all of the chicks. Only Chick 6 is still at the nest; the others have left the nest mound and are well-camouflaged out in the tundra.

All 6 chicks are now banded- Chick 6 was banded today.

A Snowy Owl chick- it is covered with gray fuzzy down, big yellow eyes, looking at the camera.

August 18, 2022

More work on the cam. Not sure what the problem is, but Explore is working on it. It may take some time to figure out what is wrong.

Found 5 chicks today, this time all but Chick 2. Both chicks that we were unable to find yesterday were there today! The weather got pretty bad while we were there so we did not want to disrupt the chicks from their dry hiding places and decided to leave.


August 21, 2022

At today’s nest check, all 6 chicks were accounted for. The two oldest chicks were sexes as males. Throughout the week, Chloe and Solai will be returning to the nest to sex the other chicks, and will have more videos and photographs to share.



August 24, 2022

Today our crew did a formal nest check. All 6 chicks were found, though it took a while to locate them all! At this point, all 6 chicks have left the nest and are mobile, walking around the tundra. Some may be close to the nest mound, and some may be a couple hundred meters away, spread out over a large area. They tend to blend in quite well on the tundra! As of today the oldest chick (Chick 1) is 38 days old, and the youngest (Chick 6) is 27 days old. None of them are flying yet, as Snowy Owl chicks don’t start flying until they are about 44 to 55 days old. Even once they start taking beginner flights, they will still depend on their parents for food, because they won’t have the skills necessary yet to hunt for themselves.

Today Chick 3 was sexed as a male. (Chicks 1 and 2 have also been sexed as males). We determine the sex of the chicks by looking at the flight feathers on their wings. In general, females will have a lot of dark bars, and males will have spots and fewer markings in general (aka, more white). Denver developed this method, which has been found to be extremely accurate. [We shared more details about this on the Ask Us Anything: Snowy Owl Live cam page—under “Chick Development- Question: What sex are the chicks?”



Photos- Left: Chick 1, aged 38 days. Middle/upper right: Outstretched wing of Chick 3, sexed as male based on the lack of stripes and other black markings on the flight feathers. Right/bottom right: Chick 6, aged 27 days.



August 27, 2022- The Last Nest Check!


Today we conducted our last nest check!


All 6 nestlings were accounted for. They were all near the shoreline of the lagoon nearby.


All chicks now have predicted sexes. Each chick has a predicted sex based on 2 key characteristics that differentiate males and females: body plumage and markings on flight feathers.


Female Snowy Owl nestlings can be sexed via a sooty gray plumage while males are light gray. Another sexing characteristic we use is markings on the flight feathers. Males have markings called "spots" that do not touch the rachis on the secondary flight feathers.


Females have markings called bars that are fully contiguous across the feather vanes on the secondary flight feathers. Based on these two characteristics we are able to predict the sexes of the nestlings. We have 3 males: Chick 01, Chick 02, and Chick 03, and 3 females: Chick 04, Chick 05, and Chick 06.


Check out the wing spreads of Chick 05 and Chick 06 (females) and a photo of Chick 02 (male).




September 14, 2022

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