What Do Snowy Owls Eat? [Complete Food List]

Snowy owls eat small mammals, particularly lemmings, in the wild tundra. They can consume 1500 lemmings during their breeding season. They also eat birds, rats, rodents, arctic hares, mice, ducks, seabirds, voles, etc.

Their diet changes based on the season and location.

Snowy owls fulfill their dietary needs with more than 70% meat.As we know, snowy owls are opportunistic predators; they eat everything that can be easily caught or hunted. According to the Canadian Wildlife Foundation research, snowy owls need 7 to 12 mice or lemmings to meet their daily dietary needs.

Do you know how the official birds of Quebec eat? Are you searching for their dietary habits? The answer to your queries is just one step ahead! So, let’s not wait anymore and deep dive into the world of insights about snowy owls’ diet.

What Do Snowy Owls Eat?

showy owl food list

Snowy owls are fast hunters that can easily hunt ptarmigan, foxes, arctic hares, and seabirds in the Arctic. These Arctic owls mainly prefer to eat small rodents. These rodents include deer mice(white-footed) and meadow voles.

The majority of snowy owls live or stay for hours near garbage dumps and grain elevators in winter. They consume rats in these areas exclusively. However, they try to hunt what is available at the moment.

They also eat mammals depending on their size, from jackrabbits to shrews. Their diet in terms of birds also depends on the bird’s availability and size, from pheasants to sparrows and ducks.

Quick Fun Fact: According to the research of Owl Research Institute, 95% of the diet of snowy owls is lemmings. They entirely rely on the lemmings in the summer season. They consume the same calories each day as an adult human consumes per day. Let’s get it simple!

Mathematically, snowy owls consume 45 pounds of meat per day. It is equal to one day’s meal of a 170 pound man. This is a crazy fun fact about snowy owls that reveals why their metabolism rate helps them to stay strong against every calamity.

What Is the Primary Diet of Snowy Owls?

Of course, the primary diet of snowy owls is lemmings. Their favorite “Lemmings” resemble large and round meadow mice. Moreover, these lemmings are very heavy breeders. What does it actually mean?

The population of lemmings can grow very fast. Their population growth rate can outstrip the food supply. At this time of verge, predation, diseases, and starvation cause the number of lemmings to dwindle so quickly.

It happens until a point of vanish reaches about the seeming lemmings. The population of lemmings becomes so low for four to five years. After this time span, it reaches its peak again.

The population of changes of lemmings remains steady across tundra regions spanning up to 2,500 km². It significantly impacts the reproductive behavior of snowy owls within these territories.

Does The Snowy Owl Eat Fish?

Yes, snowy owls eat fish, but the question is, how do they find fish in the Arctic region? Fish are not accessible in the Arctic for these wild owls. Only the cousin of salmon, Arctic Char, is hunted in the lower regions of Alaska and Canada.

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Here is a list of a few fish species that are easily available in the Tundra that far north:

  • Northern Pike
  • Ninespine Stickleback
  • Arctic Cod
  • Brook Trout
  • Lake Trout
  • Lake Whitefish
  • Arctic Grayling

The coastal areas of the U.S. have a lot of wintering snowy owls. These birds eat a lot of fish from the Northern Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Since snowy owls are expert fish hunters, it is common to see them searching for food along rivers and lakeshores.

According to the Peregrine Hunt organization‘s researchers, snowy owls have many hunting strategies up their sleeves. They can take fish, insects, crustaceans, and amphibians. ~ Source

How Do Snowy Owls Eat Their Prey?

Snowy owl

Prey typically gets caught after a brief flight from a perch. However, snowy owls also engage in airborne hunting (hunting on the wing). They hunt particularly over the arctic tundra. In fact, they soar leisurely for around 10 to 15 meters above the ground.

More interestingly, snowy owls remain alert to pounce on any potential prey. If the prey item is small, snowy owls swallow the prey whole. Many other birds swallow their prey whole instead of causing wear and tear. They only tear larger mammals or prey items into small pieces with their beaks before swallowing them.

There are strong juices in their stomachs that digest the food easily. The indigestible teeth, feathers, bones, and fur undergo compression. Then, they form oval pallets. These pallets are subsequently expelled or regurgitated by the snowy owl. It requires 18 to 24 hours to regurgitate after feeding completely.

Regular perches also serve as common locations for regurgitation. Here, numerous pallets can be discovered and seen easily. These oval pallets are often scrutinized by modern biologists to ascertain the variety of prey. They also try to find the quantity of prey consumed.

There is a prevailing content of these pallets in southern Canada. These pallets consist of the bones and fur of mice and meadow voles. Snowy owls must capture 8 to 12 mice daily in order to fulfill their nutritional needs.

Do Snowy Owls Have Teeth?

No. A big no. Snowy owls do not have teeth. They are birds and birds don’t have teeth. According to the American Bird Conservancy Report, we found the following facts about these misunderstood birds: ~ source

“Snowy owls have beaks. Moreover, they can’t chew their food. That’s why they swallow the food whole instead of biting or chewing. They do not require any dental work because they eat small mammals.”

One of our Quora colleagues, Nikita Shrivastava, said: ~ Source

“Snowy owls or any other species of owls do not have ‘teeth’. But one of the species of owls does have a ‘tooth’. These are Great Horned owls. Their hatchlings have one tooth known as an ‘egg tooth’.

What Do Baby Snowy Owls Eat?

Baby snowy owls are known as owlets. Small mammals make up the majority of their diet. The item depends on the availability of food in their habitat. Initially, the parent snow owls feed their baby snow owls. They start hunting on their own as they grow older and become more independent.

The study found that the most frequent times for snowy owls to give birth are in the early fall and summer. Short owls subsist mainly on their favorite ‘lemmings’ at this time in the Arctic. The father (a male snowy owl) is always on a mission to hunt lemmings.

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He goes hunting, returns home with the lemmings, and gives them to his partner. He did this during the first many weeks after the birth of their owlets. On the other hand, the mother of owlets keeps them warm. This is such an affectionate behavior of these species of owls.

The meat is typically divided into small pieces and given to the tiny, adorable owlets by their mothers. These baby owls move on their feet after three weeks of birth. They leave the nests at this time. They try to adapt to the new and harsh environment of their areas.

Owlets start flying once they are seven weeks old. They start looking for and intrepidly hunting “lemmings” for them around two months of age. But somehow, they remain with their parents and depend on them until they reach 10 weeks old.

Their parents start moving towards the USA and southern Canada after their owlets are fully independent. Their whole family moved on this journey. There are only a few who migrate alone.

Are Snowy Owls Carnivores?

snowy owl flying

Yes. Snowy owls are carnivores (meat eaters). According to a PBS news article, snowy owls love to consume the flesh of other animals, birds, and sometimes fish. One adult eats more than 1,600 lemmings in one year.

Hunting skills take a lot of time to develop in a professional and skilled bird of prey. But on some days, these snowies will be successful hunters. ~ Source

According to researchers at the Owls Research Institute, snowy owls also eat lizards, snakes, frogs, and many other creatures. The fact that they are carnivores is advantageous because while vegetation is scarce in the tundra, lemmings and other animals are plentiful. ~ Source

What Do Snowy Owls Eat in The Summer?

Snowy owls, as is well known, prefer to stay in the icy tundra areas of northern Canada. They stay there as long as it’s hot outside. This area does not have trees; only sedges and dwarf shrubs grow there. Other plants can’t grow in this area.

Thus, only a few animals or mammals can live in these areas when it’s summer in other areas. So, snowy owls consume the following items while staying in icy tundra during summer:

  • Marmot
  • Pika
  • Arctic ground squirrel
  • Arctic hare

Marmot and Pika are lemmings. Lemmings are known as the go-to animals when you find yourself in their natural habitat. If available, they also eat passerines, shorebirds, and waterfowl during the summer.

Feeding Ecology of Snowy Owls Wintering In Southern Alberta

The different behaviors of snowy owls, such as arid hunting, habitat choice, and food habits, have some explanations, according to the journal articles provided on the Jstor platform. When they stayed in Calgary, Alberta, especially during the winter, these behaviors were noticed. It was studied during the winter seasons of 1976-1977 and 1977-1978.

According to recent facts, rodents are their favorite food. But in Alberta, they prey on Gray partridge extensively. So, the researchers found that these dietary behavior differences are due to major differences in weather. Male snowy owls love to prey largely on mice, while females target larger prey species. ~ Source

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Do snowy owls eat arctic foxes?

Snowy owls eat Arctic foxes, although they can run very fast and their nature is very clever. Snowy owls often catch them and eat their meat. They are included as one of the biggest enemies of Arctic foxes.

Do snowy owls eat Arctic hares?

Yes, snowy owls eat Arctic hares. When lemmings are in shortage or unavailable for any reason, arctic hares are their second choice as an alternative food source. Adult or young snowy owls are more likely to consume juvenile arctic hares. Juvenile arctic hares are more than 28 inches of length. They are twice the size of an adult snowy owl.

Do snowy owls eat berries?

Not at all. Snowy owls do not eat berries or any other relevant food like fruits, vegetables, grass, or any other plant. It is because their digestive system is designed differently. Their digestive system can only handle animal protein.

Do snowy owls consume felines?

Many species of owls eat cats. So, the probability is that snowy owls also eat felines if they live in Canada or the United States. However, the diet of snowy owls does not include cats. They are not averse to eating cats. Moreover, felines are not a preferred food for snowy owls.

Can snowy owls digest bones?

Not at all. Snowy owls are unable to digest teeth, bones, fur, or feathers. They regurgitate or cough up these things. These oval objects are called owl pellets. The owl pellets contain fur, bones, and skulls. Thus, you can easily find out what the snowy owl has eaten before.

Do snowy owls eat 🐧 penguins?

No. Snowy owls do not eat penguins. This is a misunderstanding that snowy owls eat penguins. But the reality is that snowy owls do not eat penguins. The main reason is that the Arctic does not have any penguins.

Penguins are categorized as aquatic seabirds. Only the Southern Hemisphere is their home. On the other hand, snowy owls are found in northern latitudes. So, how do snowy owls eat penguins?

Do snowy owls eat jaegers?

Yes, snowy owls eat jaegers. Jaegers are included in most staple prey items. A number of animals, including parasitic, pomarime, long-tailed jaegers, rough-legged hawks, ermines, weasels, Arctic foxes, and snowy owls, enjoy eating jaegers.


The eating habits of snowy owls are helpful for making the ecosystem much better. They are the main reason behind the control of the excessive population of rodents and lemmings. Thus, they are amazing birds that are playing a vital role in the overall environment of the Arctic tundra.

I hope you love reading about the thriving nature of snowy owls. We have a lot more amazing topics for our readers up our sleeves. Moreover, if you have any questions, you can ask them in the comments section. We would be happy to answer all of your queries!

Thank you for reading!

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