Wisconsin Nature

Owls in Winter

During the cold winter months in Wisconsin, many of us bundle up in layers in order to enjoy the wonders of the outdoors. By this time, many bird species have migrated and are enjoying warmth and a plethora of food further south. But, what about those resilient birds who stay with us all winter long?

Why Owls Do Well in the Cold

The most common owl species in Wisconsin include the Great Horned, Barred, and Screech Owls. These three species are well adapted enough to our climate and have no need to venture far from home. They all have feet that are covered with feathers that reach all the way to the tips of their toes. This allows their feet to stay nice and toasty in the coldest temps. If you have a down feather jacket, you can see how the soft little feathers are great insulators for our birds. Owls keep warm with the help of the down feathers close to their bodies. But, they have another trick up their wings! Owls also have specialized contour (body) feathers with extra extensions that serve to trap even more heat next to their bodies.

Visits from Snowy Owls

There are two big reasons that owls rule our winter skies. Great Horned Owls are the first each year to nest in our state, with a breeding season in late January and February. Recently, we have also had a polar visitor more regularly among us – the awe-inspiring Snowy Owl. These Arctic owls sometimes travel south in unpredictable invasions known as irruptions. These are most likely caused by successful breeding seasons due to abundant prey availability in the arctic.

So the next time you’re deciding whether or not it’s worth the effort of putting on your snow gear, do as the owls do: bundle up and go see what nature has to offer!