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Do Owls Hibernate Or Migrate: [Complete Guide]

Hoot! Hoot! You’ve likely heard this common nighttime sound. Maybe you’ve heard it when you were on a camping trip. Maybe you hear it outside your window every night before you fall asleep. Whatever the situation is, it would be hard to say that the owl is one of the rarest creatures in the world. No, this isn’t the case at all.

The quick answer to, Do owls hibernate?

Most, but not all, owls hibernate during the winter season. The reason for this is that it is just simply too frigid and cold for owls to go about their normal hunting activities. Owls are certainly no exception to this, as they also hibernate during those long winter months.

They are extremely common and pretty well known. In fact, there are many occasions when they’ll be referred to as one of the smartest birds in the species.

Have you noticed that during the winter months you don’t hear that owl as much? You might not even hear him or her at all. This has probably left you wondering whether owls hibernate or migrate.

Despite their commonality, there are still tons of things that people don’t know about the owl. If you are interested and want to learn more information about the owl all you’ve got to do Is continue reading.

In fact, you might be surprised to learn that owl hibernate in the same or similar manner to that of other birds. There is one exception to this statement though.

And, that would be the Snowy Owl. The Snowy Owl is the only owl that is known not to hibernate. Instead, they’ll migrate to water climates and come back when the weather is right.

Snowy Owls And Irruption

Do owls hibernate


To say that the Snowy Owl migrates would be a bit of a stretch. In fact, Snowy Owls don’t migrate like you would think in the traditional sense. It’s not like they fly long distances away to warmer climates and return to their original location when the weather is acceptable. Instead, they engage in what is known as irruption.

IrruptionOpens in a new tab. is something that is become more and more popular amongst scientists and bird researchers. Apparently, it is something that birds just recently started doing.

The reason they started engaging in the irruption process is because of the unusual weather. Global warming and other environmental factors have lead to a lot of unusual weather.

And, this weather has affected a lot of animals including the owl. It affects their food sources and causes them to engage in irruption. Instead of migrating to warmer climates, they’ll migrate further south and in larger numbers than ever before.

During this time, they’ll hunt in open field and farmlands, looking for rodents feeding on seeds.

The only problem is that the owls can still be forced elsewhere because cold weather conditions affect crops, which in turn affects the rodent population. When the rodent population goes down the Snowy Owl will be forced to other areas.

When the Snowy Owl migrates to the South, he’ll look for lands that are similar to that of his home, the Arctic tundra. One commonplace that fits the bill is Logan Airport. It’s low and flat with short scruffy plants and grasses that make the perfect hunting ground for smaller mammals and birds.

During the months of early November and early April, you’ll find an abundance of Snowy Owls at the Logan airport.

Other Species Of Owls

It has recently been discovered that it is not just the Snowy Owl that is active during the winter months. The Barn Owl is also another of the species that has forgone hibernation.

This side of the species originally evolved in a warmer and drier climate so winter is extremely harsh and hard for them.

In fact, most of this species if lucky if they can make it through the winter. There are three major factors that will determine whether or not a Barn Owl survives the winter. These three factors would be the weather, prey abundance, and coping strategies.

Weather (temperature) – Given that Barn Owl comes from warmer climates, they are poorly insulated. They are also not used to the cold weather and don’t know how to handle it. That being said, their poor insulation means that they require extra energy during the cold weather to make up for an increased loss of body heat.

Given that food is even harder to find in the winter, this is going to make things extremely tough for the species. In the late autumn and winter when the weather drops, mammals become less and less active.

Less activity means fewer chances for the Barn Owl to feed. So, weather and temperature will play a major role in the survival of the Barn Owl during the winter.

Rainfall – It is not just the temperature that is going to make a difference, but the rainfall will come into play as well. Barn Owl feathers are extremely delicate and soft, which means they are not very resistant to weather or water. It is not only hard for them to hunt when it is cold or raining, but hunting becomes completely out of the question when it is both cold and raining.

Historically, Barn Owls have been able to trap mice and rats inside farm buildings during periods of bad weather, but opportunities like these have become even less and less available for the species.

Snow Cover – If cold weather and rain are a problem for the Barn Owl, you can imagine that snow will be a major problem as well. Although mice move about on top of the snow, they do spend a great portion of their time underground eating stored foods.

When the snow reaches levels of 70mm or greater, owls are going to have a much harder time at snagging prey. It is during these times that the Barn Own will turn to temporary food sources like small birds.


You can clearly see that owls have changed over the years. What once used to be a hibernating species is now one that is fairly active during this winter.

This is not to say that all owls are active during the winter because this would not be the case at all. Some do still hibernate, while others will go about their daily business.

It really depends on the species, but whatever the situation is, all species of owls are going to have a rough go of it in the winter, whether they’ve gathered enough food or not.

Brian Koller

Growing up on a farm in eastern PA, I’ve grown fond of wildlife and the woods and learning about the critters and firewood and everything else in-between. I made this site to share my experiences and knowledge.

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