Are Snowy Owls Nocturnal? [Sleeping Habits Revealed]

Owls are very unique birds and known to be nocturnal avian predators hunting for food at night and resting during the day. However, snowy owls inhabit Arctic regions where food is generally scarce and daylight can be as long as 24 hours. When do they hunt then and when do they sleep?

Snowy owls are not nocturnal, they are diurnal which means that they are active during the day and sleep at night. They usually hunt during the day when lemmings are out, however, their behavior varies across the seasons. They can be seen active at any time in the Arctic tundra during the summer when there is constant daylight.

Keep reading to find out when snowy owls sleep and where you can see them resting.

Are Snowy Owls Nocturnal?

No, unlike most owls which are active at night, snowy owls are not nocturnal. This polar owl is a diurnal predator which forages in the daytime and rests during the night.

During the summer months when the daylight lasts 24 hours in the Arctic tundra, snowy owls can be seen hunting at any time1 (source: Owl Research Institue).

When Do Snowy Owls Sleep?

Snowy owls sleep during the night after they hunt all day long for their prey which in the Arctic appears active after sunrise. Snowy owls inhabit wide open areas and do not favor dense forests and bushes, so you would not find them sleeping in a forest but rather on a tree or telephone pole. Snowy owls, similar to most owls, sleep for as long as 12 to 15 hours.

 Although there is a myth of owls sleeping with their eyes open, snowy owls sleep with their eyelids tightly closed. When snowy owls sleep they keep their heads close to their body and “fluff out” their feathers.

Interestingly, a study recorded that snowy owls tend to be less active when it is raining and even use it as a time to rest and sleep, just like us2 (source: M. Shields, The Murrelet, Vol. 50, No. 2, pp. 14-16, 1969).

How Do Snowy Owls Hunt?

The snowy owl’s diet consists of small rodents, especially lemmings. Snowy owls usually hunt during day time or at dusk. They use the silent technique of sit-and-watch perched on a high point with a good overview of the surroundings. During the summer snowy owls hunt throughout the day.

However, the hunting techniques of snowy owls depend on the snow cover and the area they are inhabiting –whether it would be the open tundra or near the coast where the prey is different. Snowy owls are seen to hover in the air or walk on the ground while looking for food3 (sources: A. Sieradzki, Designed for Darkness: The Unique Physiology and Anatomy of Owls and M. Robinson and C.D. Becker, Snowy Owls on Fetlar).

Related Questions

Do Snowy Owls Sleep?

Snowy owls sleep at night during the summer and like most owls, they also can sometimes sleep up to 15 hours. Snowy owls hunt during the day in the summer or at dusk, so they sleep after their foraging routine.

Are Snowy Owls Diurnal?

Yes, snowy owls are diurnal especially during the summer when days in the Arctic tundra last 24 hours.

How Far Can A Snowy Owl See?

Snowy owls can see the furthest out of all owls. A snowy owl’s eye is developed to see at a long distance, meaning they struggle to see things close to them4 (source: S Potier, et al, Seminars in Cell & Developmental Biology, Vol. 106, 2020, pp.116-126).

When Are Snowy Owls Most Active And Why?

Snowy owls are most active during the twilight periods of the day – at dusk and dawn when the sun is below the horizon and there is still light.


  • Marieta Mihova

    Marieta Mihova is a marine biologist with a Master's degree in Marine Biology from Bangor University. She is currently working as a Biologist for the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, researching dolphin density in the Black Sea.

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