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Plate No. 121: Snowy Owl
John J. Audubon published his signature work, The Birds of America, between 1827 and 1838. The collection featured 435 plates, his depiction of the Snowy Owl can be found on plate number 121.
Below are experts containing Audubon’s observations of the Snowy Owl, taken from Ornithological Biographies, a book on bird habits that Audubon wrote to supplement his artwork.
“This beautiful bird is merely a winter visitor of the United States, where it is seldom seen before the month of November, and whence it retires as early as the beginning of February. It wanders at times along the sea coast, as far as Georgia. I have occasionally seen it in the lower parts of Kentucky, and in the State of Ohio. It is more frequently met with in Pennsylvania and the Jerseys; but in Massachusetts and Maine it is far more abundant than in any other parts of the Union.”
“The Snowy Owl hunts during the day, as well as in the dusk. Its flight is firm and protracted, although smooth and noiseless. It passes swiftly over its hunting ground, seizes its prey by instantaneously falling on it, and generally devours it on the spot. When the objects of its pursuit are on wing, such as ducks, grouse, or pigeons, it gains upon them by urging its speed, and strikes them somewhat in the manner of the Peregrine Falcon.”
“The observations which I have made induce me to believe that the pure and rich light yellowish whiteness of this species belongs to both sexes after a certain age.”
“An old hunter, now residing in Maine, told me that one winter he lost so many musk-rats by the Owls, that he resolved to destroy them.”
“So much has been said to me of its breeding in the northern parts of the State of Maine, that this may possibly be correct. In Nova Scotia they are abundant at the approach of winter; and Professor Macculloch, of the University of Pictou, showed me several beautiful specimens in his fine collection of North American birds.”
“Scarcely is there a winter which does not bring several of these hardy natives of the north to the Falls of the Ohio at Louisville. At the break of day, one morning, when I lay hidden in a pile of drift logs, at that place, waiting for a shot at some wild geese, I had an opportunity of seeing this Owl secure fish in the following manner: While watching for their prey on the borders of the "pots," they invariably lay flat on the rock, with the body placed lengthwise along the border of the hole, the head also laid down, but turned towards the water. One might have supposed the bird sound asleep, as it would remain in the same position until a good opportunity of securing a fish occurred, which I believe was never missed; for, as the latter unwittingly rose to the surface, near the edge, that instant the Owl thrust out the foot next the water, and, with the quickness of lightning, seized it, and drew it out. The Owl then removed to the distance of a few yards, devoured his prey, and returned to the same hole; or, if it had not perceived any more fish, flew only a few yards over the many pots there, marked one, and alighted at a little distance from it. It then squatted, moved slowly towards the edge, and lay as before watching for an opportunity. Whenever a fish of any size was hooked, as I may say, the Owl struck the other foot also into it, and flew off with it to a considerable distance.”
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