Living with a baby Snow Owl
We bought Argyll, our baby Snowy Owl, from the Scottish Owl Centre in July 2018 when he was not quite 2 weeks old. He proved to be our most popular bird in his first summer with us and we really enjoyed watching him develop. It happens fast!
The rate of change of a fluffy owlet to a fully grown owl is astonishing and we think you'll enjoy the process, so we have been keeping a diary of Argyll's progress. Some of it has been shared on our Facebook group, The Scottish Countryman's Owls, but in this post we'll share more of the rapid growth and dramatic change in a snowy owl chick over just a 4-week period.
First, here's how Argyll looked when we first collected him:
As you can see, Argyll was mostly covered in grey fluff, which is actually feather but doesn't yet look like feather! This covering serves two purposes: it keeps the young owls warm and it protects their incoming feathers. It’s a bit like padding!
Argyll’s beak was very prominent in his face, dark coloured and surrounded by most black feathering. His eyes were a pale yellow and very round in their outline. He sat on his hunkers, feet protruding and white feathers over this huge black talons. His feet are definitely worth a closer look! These are his future weapons, and already - even at 10 days/2 weeks old - they look pretty fierce, don’t they?!
Argyll settled in quickly, taking over the dogs’ bed for himself and making himself at home in a section of the sitting room where we put down a waxed table-cloth for him to potter about on.
Like all babies, he’d be full of beans one minute - exploring and busy and inquisitive - and then sleeping the next. Argyll just ‘crashed’ whenever and wherever his batteries ran out: face down, legs out behind him, feet turned upward, and looking a bit like a deflated balloon.
He was only about 10 inches tall - about 25cm - at this point, and not very elegant on the move. It’s tough to get about on your heels, though, and HOT in all that fluff…
The downy grey covering of fluff that Argyll started with changed to more recognisable feathers at the tail and outer edges of his wings first
The new feathers are a fabulous whiter-than-white, with black splodges that are characteristic of young and female snowy owls, but will mostly disappear when Argyll reaches full maturity in a couple of years time. Snowy Owl males are all white, as you’ll see from this image, below, comparing baby Argyll with his very handsome dad!
Day by day, Argyll’s feathers grow in, extending up his wings and filling out his tail. The photo at the end of this group of 3 was taken only 3 days apart!
And then the dark colouring on Argyll’s head starts to lighten and change, as white feathers grow to replace the dark ones around his eyes and beak.
Argyll spent a lot of time roaming around outside each day, getting more active as his confidence grew and his mobility improved. His growing feathers are quite heavy, though, so he struggled a bit to manoeuvre them, seeming to surprise himself when he first started to flap his wings!
As well as getting used to his new home, Argyll had to get used to the other animals here, including the other birds of prey (at a distance) and the dogs, Peter and Shinty. The dogs are used to birds, of course, but there’s always some interest in a new member of the team, so we are careful to introduce them gradually and to watch closely. Here’s Argyll just hanging out with Pete on a perfect summer’s day!
And exploring the mews area - where Fergus the Eagle Owl lives - on another sunny day…
As Argyll’s feathers came in, his size increased, doubling in the first two weeks and then growing rapidly for the next 2. I made the photos the same size to show his change in appearance in the before-and-after shot, below, but he was twice the height in the right hand photo!
When we weighed Argyll, 4 weeks after we first got him, he was 1.3kg - or 2.5lbs. He still has a lot of feathers growing and more to come through, which increases his weight.
This is because feather quills that are growing are filled with blood, so are heavier than full-gown feathers. It’s a similar process to you growing finger nails. You have blood behind the new nail as it emerges from the nail bed, then no blood once it has grown out past the nail bed.
At 4 weeks after he arrived, approximately 6 weeks old, Argyll is almost fully grown. He only has another 2 weeks to go before he becomes fully-feathered and, at that point, his flying training will start in earnest.
Here’s what the early flying practice phases look like. You can see there’s a long way to go, but he’s got plenty of time and we’ll be covering Argyll’s progress in a subsequent blog post.
Anything you’d like to know about baby Snowy Owls? Post your questions or comments below. If you’d like to learn more about where we got Argyll, you might like to read my post all about The Scottish Owl Centre.