Those Eyes of the Snowy Owls

Posted on Dec 10, 2017 in Birds | 3 Comments

What a thrill photographing this awesome tolerant Snowy Owl!  Check out the typical Snowy Owl pictures along with my shots of this so cool posing owl.  The eyes are the difference!  Here’s my story along with some interesting snowy owl information, please read on.

Owls are a favorite of many people, birders, photographers as well as common folks :).  I love owls too; it’s those incredible eyes of theirs that fascinate me.  They’re sometimes human like, when alert, the intensity of their stare is alluring.

With a desire to capture pictures, while out during the daytime I’ve found Eastern Screech, Barred, Great Horned and Snowy Owls, unfortunately they’re usually sleepy eyed, which is the none alert, common result and not the desired picture.  Most of our Michigan Owls are nocturnal.  Snowy Owls are the exception being diurnal; in daylight hour’s snowies are most active at dawn and dusk. Near my home in Macomb County Snowy Owl photo opportunities usually come with a sleepy eyed Snowy on a rooftop or utility pole.  Still very cool to see and share the photos but nothing striking about the shots.

“Whether the tundra or the Great Plains, an airport field or beach dunes, Snowy Owls like treeless places and wide-open spaces. Because they often sit right on the ground to hunt, they prefer rolling terrain where they can find a vantage to survey the surrounding area. On their wintering grounds they’ll also perch atop a fencepost, hay bale, building, telephone pole, grain elevator—anywhere with a good view.”

2017 / 2018 winter has started off with great number of Snowy Owl sighting reports, leading experts to believe this will be an Irruption Year.

“An irruption is a dramatic, irregular migration of large numbers of birds to areas where they aren’t typically found, possibly at a great distance from their normal ranges.”

“Irruption myths:

Most people assume that hunger has driven these owls south, and that they are doomed to slowly starve to death in this unfamiliar southern landscape. Both assumptions are generally wrong.

It appears it’s not hunger that produces these mega-flights, but an absurd abundance of food during the summer breeding season. High populations of lemmings, voles, ptarmigan and other prey lead to large clutches of owl eggs. There is growing evidence that snowy owls from many parts of the Arctic may congregate to nest in areas where prey is abundant.”

Most Owls are skittish and typically not tolerant of people getting close to them.  There’s a belief that with birds, one in a hundred are tolerant and approachable.  Following the bird forums on the net, I came across several nice snowy owl pictures taken in Michigan. One particular snowy owl has many photos being posted of it, its location was at the Muskegon Waste Water Treatment Facility.  By the photos I knew this had to be a very tolerant bird, I was tempted to make the 6 hour round trip.   When postings & pictures continued, I made a decision to go. At 8:30 PM Saturday night I called my friend Gary and told him of the potential with this cool bird.   He decided quickly that he was in and together we would make the trip to Muskegon, we were off for the three hour drive the following morning, departing Sunday @ 4:30AM.

When we arrived we saw four snowy owls there spread out over the facility property, but one was quickly discovered to be the one that was the star of many photos.  This great bird did not disappoint, it’s unbelievable how tolerant this one is of humans, while appearing to be healthy and looking good!  It was on the rock edge of a narrow dike road between two large water retention areas, while other snow owls would fly off as cars came down the road, this one was unconcerned about slow approaching cars and people going down the road.

Arriving jsut after dawn the Owl was still very alert,  showing off those fantastic yellow eyes!

Watching its head swivel almost 360 degree’s was cool, ducks and geese were moving around keeping its keen attention.  As indicated in this picture when some ducks flew over close by.

Those brilliant yellow eyes!

During our visit this Snowy did not take flight or leave the area but did move to a few different perches on the ground.  A photographer’s delight!

It soon settled in, the familiar sleepy eyed pose became the scene.

This Snowy Owl at the same location was less tolerant; it had more barring and all white feet that resembled wearing white boots. One eye open, giving a good sample of how the eyes can make or break the shot.

Identification – Sexing / Aging

Male, female ID and aging a Snowy Owl can be confusing.   Here some conventional wisdom from several field guides.

Sibley guide:

Nearly-white bird identified as “Adult Male” Dark bird identified as “First Year Female”

National Geographic guide:

“Dark bars and spots are heavier on females, heaviest on immatures; old males may be pure white.”

Birds of North America:

The darkest males and the palest females are virtually alike in color, but the whitest birds, sometimes practically pure white, are always males, and the most heavily barred ones are always females (Bent 1938).

I found an interesting Snowy Owl study by Art McMorris, his identification conclusions from his study believe there are exceptions to the conventional wisdom.

•“Conventional wisdom” usually true
•Lighter birds are usually males
•But: Exceptions!
•Don’t assume! Field identification not certain! •Ageing is very difficult in the field

2017 is looking like its an irruption year for Snowy Owls.  Sightings can be found via

The above link is a great resource.  If you want to see a beautiful Snowy Owl, this year is your chance, there’s a great range of sightings.  It’s early in the season and a good winter activity, get out there and have some fun trying to find one!



  1. Abhishek Mukherjee
    December 16, 2017

    These are great photos. Thanks for sharing these with us.

  2. Jerry
    December 17, 2017

    A very impressive collection of imagery. Continued good luck in the chase to capture the beauty of the natural world.

  3. Cathy Carroll
    December 17, 2017

    Hi Willie,

    You write such a nice blog. I wait for the end of the year just to receive this email with your year end update. But I’m greedy; I wish you would do posts throughout the year. Your photos are just too nice to wait for. As a photographer, you’re really on the main stage. Such good stuff! Your website is super nice. I am going to attach to my blog.

    All the best,


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