Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Snowy Owl - Bubo scandiacus
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General Comments Arguably one of the most spectacular birds in North America, the Snowy Owl is, unfortunately, seldom seen in the South. Prior to 1950, there were records in the state every handful of years, a number of them from the Piedmont. Sadly, back in those days, many were shot, for a variety of reasons that would be considered today as heartless. In recent decades, southbound "invasions" of the species take place every few years, owing to shortage of rodents in Canada. In most recent winters, Snowies make it as far south as New Jersey, or perhaps Maryland or Virginia, but only once or twice in a decade do Snowy Owls reach North Carolina, almost always to the immediate coast. However, in late fall and winter 2013-2014, a remarkable number of Snowies invaded the mid-Atlantic states, and North Carolina had over a dozen (!) reports for the winter [Chat 78:28-29 link], [Chat 78:71-72 link]. A much smaller flurry of records started again in late fall 2017, into early 2018. Snowy Owls are seldom seen on succeeding days, as the birds -- though quite conspicuous as they sit on dunes, posts, or buildings during daylight hours -- always seem to be on the move. The species is normally found around dunes or coastal grasslands; occasionally they are found at extensive fields.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G4
Coastal Plain Winter visitor. Until the late fall and winter 2013-2014, casual to very rare along the immediate coast, mainly on the Outer Banks; about 11 records until Nov 2013, with an additional 2-3 records near and along the coast in that month, and an additional 9-10 records from Dec 2013 - Feb 2014. There are about eight inland records, with only four since about 1953 -- one found dead on a road at Goldsboro, on 10 Jan 1992 [it had apparently been seen in the area since about 16 Nov 1991 [Chat 57:19)] link]; one found moribund near Bay Tree Lake (Bladen) on 18 Dec 2013; one on a lightpole at a bank in Washington (Beaufort) on 21 Dec 2013; and one found dead on the NC 94 bridge over Albemarle Sound, 11 Jan 2014. The span of the other roughly 20 dates is 18 Nov - 8 Mar. One at the Cedar Island Ferry Terminal (Carteret) on 23 Mar 2021 was very late and rare that far south. Peak count: 2 at Ocracoke Island, 30 Dec 2013 - 28 Feb 2014. All other records are of single individuals, with the most notable being one seen at Fort Fisher/Bald Head Island from 24 Nov - 3 Dec 2001 [Chat 66:73 link], a length of stay at least 10 days; and it was seen by dozens of birders. Another lingered at Cape Hatteras Point (Dare) from 26 Nov - 12 Dec 2013, when also seen by numerous birders. Three sightings, all from Pea Island, spanned the range of 15 Dec 2017 - 9 Feb 2018 and perhaps represented three separate individuals. One to probably two birds were seen at many locales along the coast in the winter of 2021-2022, south to southern Topsail Beach (Pender).
Piedmont Winter visitor; formerly (prior to about 1953) very rare. No records between that year and early winter 2013 - 2014, when one was seen at the Neuse River WTP (Wake) on 2 Dec 2013, and one was seen along Meredell Farm Road (Randolph) on 3 Dec 2013; both of these were photographed. Now (2018), once again considered to be a very rare visitor. Roughly 15 additional records are available, with records from Alamance, Anson, Forsyth, Granville, Guilford, Iredell, Mecklenburg, Nash, Person, Rowan, Vance, and Wilkes. Records fall between 16 Nov - 13 Feb, with one undated in Nov, and a remarkably late bird photographed at the Raleigh-Durham airport (Wake) on 12 Apr 2021. One was found moribund in Person on 21 Mar 2014, though it is not clear how long the bird had been dead. All are of single birds, except for a questionable report of 3 birds seen by a non-birder.
Mountains Winter visitor; accidental. Multiple reports from north of Weaverville, Buncombe, in 1891; and one photographed in Transylvania from 7-9 Dec 2013. This last bird was weak, was captured by hand, and was taken to a wildlife rehabilitator.
Finding Tips Because it is too rare to search for in NC, you will need to keep abreast of listserves and websites. Needless to say, this is a highly "wanted" species to see by birders in the state, and mass hysteria among NC birders usually unfolds when one is reported in VA, much less in NC!
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-21], LeGrand[2022-04-27], LeGrand[2022-02-24]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.