Snowy Owl (Nycteascandiaca)

A snowy owl makes a rare visit to central Illinois, resting- and dining -
on the roof of a house in a new subdivision.

Snowy owls always attract attention during their winter visits to Illinois. While not common, a few snowy owls are almost always found during the colder months, especially in northern Illinois.

Some years, greater numbers of snowy owls appear in Illinois when the lack of prey in northern climates forces them south in a search for food. These are called "irruption years." Irruption means "to increase irregularly." Don't confuse it with eruption, which is what volcanoes do.

The snowy owls on this page were photographed at Montrose Beach, a favorite stop for Chicago-area birdwatchers. Montrose is a small spit of land that extends out into Lake Michigan. It is one of the best places in Illinois to witness spring and fall migration.

Snowy owls are one of the few "diurnal" owl species. This means they are active and may hunt during daylight hours.

Photographs by Chris Young and Kanae Hirabayashi

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Snowy owls make regular appearances along the shore of Lake Michigan during winter in the Chicago area.

 Quick Facts about snowy owls:

Its diet consists primarily of mammals (mostly voles) and birds.


A few snowy owls appear each winter, most in northern Illinois. They nest in the arctic.

Why are they here?

Most snowy owls appear in Illinois when prey becomes scarce to the north. Years with large numbers of visiting snowy owls are called "irruption years."


Visiting snowy owls have been seen in open areas like plowed fields, airfields, golf courses, lake shores and parks.

For more snowy owl photos, click here.