Tag Archives: Bass Rocks

How to Tell the Difference Between Male and Female Snowy Owls

The winter of 2017-2018 has proven so far to be an irruptive year for Snowy Owls, as was predicted by scientists. In years when there is a lemming population boom, which is a staple of the Snowy’s diet, double, even triple, the amount of Snowy Owl hatchlings survive the summer breeding season. Arctic winter arrives and for whatever reason, either there is less food available or the first hatch year owls can’t hunt as well, a number of Snowies head south, both adults and juveniles, generally though, more juveniles than adults migrate.

Snowy Owls are white birds, with varying degrees of brown, black, and gray feather patterning. They are North America’s largest owl by weight. As with most bird of prey species, female Snowies are larger than the males, by about one pound. That is considerable, knowing that the average weight of a Snowy Owl is four pounds. A male may grow up to 25 inches, a female to 27 inches, and the wingspan of both is about equal. Because females are larger and more dominant, they usually don’t migrate as far south, staking out territory further north. Typically in our area we see first hatch year males, although currently there is thought to be an adult male at Salisbury Beach. The Snowy at Bass Rocks is presumably a female. When out in the field, the hardest to tell apart are the darkest males and the palest females.

In learning about Snowy Owls, I came across several very helpful photos of Snowy Owl specimens. And we have three examples, from Snowies found right here on the North Shore, from which to compare.

In the photo below, you are looking at eight Snowy Owl specimens from the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates. One through five on the left are males; six, seven, and eight are females. Notice how similar, yet different, are five and six (male #5, female #6).

  1. Snowy Owl males are generally whiter.
  2. Snowy Owl females tend to be larger.
  3. Snowy Owl male’s tails have up to three bars, the female’s have from three to six.
  4. Snowy Owl females have wider and darker marks and bars on the back, nape, and tail.
  5. Snowy Owl males have a larger white bib.

Closeup of the intermediary male (five) and female (six).

Underside of the Owls, in the same order.

Comparing the above photos I think we can logically conclude that the Snowy Owl that was at Captain Joe and Sons in 2015 was a young male, with light markings and a large white bib.

Young Male Snowy Owl

The Snowy Owl currently at Bass Rocks, I think it is safe to say, is a female, and most likely a juvenile. She doesn’t have much bib showing and her overall markings are wide and dark.

Female Snowy Owl

We have our own example of an intermediate–is the Snowy Owl recently photographed at Cranes Beach a juvenile male or a female?

Male or female?


Evocative views looking through sea smoke along the shoreline this morning, from Ten Pound Island to Twin Lights, and at every vantage point along the way. On my very last stop photographing a buoy in the sea smoke, I spied a mystery bird far off shore. Bobbing in the water and with a bill not at all shaped liked a seagulls, it was a SNOW GOOSE! He was too far away to get a great photo, but wonderful to see nonetheless!

Wild and Windy Night

With power outages around Essex County, and kids home from school, I headed over to Good Harbor Beach after the storm to photograph the surging waves. One of my favorite-homes-to-admire, located along the backshore drive, suffered tremendous damage to their property. Prior to renovations, it was a charming, albeit tiny, pink clapboard home nestled amongst a grove of pine trees and sited atop a granite outcropping along the shoreline. With renovations completed, it is presently a lovely New England shingle-style home. I call it the yin yang house for several reasons– with the whispering pines juxtaposed against the constant roar of the crashing Atlantic surf, and because the shingles are stained seashell pink, which contrasts handsomely against the weathered granite boulders that form the foundation and walls of the first floor. They lost many of their beautiful pines that comprised the grove, which also afforded them privacy along Atlantic Road. There were at least half a dozen thirty- to forty-foot trees, upturned by their roots, and laying on the ground and across the road. At this time of year, with snow melting and torrential downpours, the ground is heavily saturated with moisture and trees are particularly vulnerable to being pulled out of the ground by powerful wind gusts. Fortunately, it appears as though the house suffered very little damage–all the trees fell towards the roadway and not towards the house

I find fascinating homes that are situated in close proximity to the ocean, surviving savage storms year in and year out. Case in point–the house at the tip of Sherman’s Point in the old postcard is the same house in the photo that follows. While our house shuddered and shook, I lay cozy under a stack of comforters and quilts, and found reassuring the fact that our home was built in 1851 and that we are tucked half a block up from the inner harbor. We sustained only very minor damage compared to what many suffered. Part of the granite retaining wall that supports our fence fell and now the fence is tilting, and one of the pair of the Dragon Lady holly trees is partially uprooted, but that was easily remedied with large stakes and twine. We gently, but firmly, guided the rootball back into the hole and pressed the soil around the roots. The tree is along a narrow path close to the house, so we were unable to wire stakes around the perimeter. Instead, we used two six-foot lengths of hardwood stakes and twine. Some were without power for days, roofs were blown off buildings, and the streets littered with downed trees and branches. I know I will be looking at the trees on our property and that of my clients with a sharper eye for pruning for safety’s sake.