The cold harsh winter had begun in the Arctic tundra. Like all types of tundra it is a very cold and windy place. It seldom has any rain for most of the precipitation falls as snow. This snow insulates the ground dwellings of animals and plants from the bitter cold. Its vast plains are filled with flowers, many kinds of grasses, mosses, and lichen. It is located in the earth’s north polar region. The winters are long, dark and very cold with minus temperatures most of the time.
One unusual thing about the Arctic tundra is that there are no trees at all. Plants have adapted to the extremely cold temperatures and protect themselves from the cold by growing in groups and not becoming tall.
Small shrubs, sedges, and flowers are about the only survivors in this land of snow and ice. In the spring and summer the landscape has extra long daylight hours which allow the plants to grow quickly.
There are many animals that have also adapted to this frozen world. The caribou, the Arctic hare, the musk ox, wolves, arctic foxes, polar bears, seals, insects and birds call it their home. Some live year round while others choose to migrate to warmer places in the winter and return in the short summer. Most however have adjusted to the tundra and have thick fur or feathers to keep them warm.
One such animal is the snowy owl that has the ability to form thick layers of fat on their bodies during the summer when they can find large amounts of food. This fat then serves as insulation from the cold and is converted to energy in the winter. Some animals that do stay in the winter simply hibernate. This allows them to sleep and their bodies do not require food until the winter has ended.
It is in this icy place that the ghostlike snowy owl with its unmistakable white feathers lives.
This is the home of Dorka and Frazel the magnificent snowy owls.
“Dorka I am going to go hunting today while you care for the eggs. It is pretty clear today so I will perch and wait for our food for the evening. You just rest here and I’ll be back shortly. My keen eyesight and my good hearing will help me to find food under this snow cover. I will wait until I can see it clearly and then I will soar off and snatch it with my sharp talons. It might take a while so be patient. A wise owl takes his time and knows his territory well.” Frazel called to his mate.
“Very well but do be careful. The wolves are out and they are looking for food too. So are the eagles and condors. Just yesterday I saw a condor swoop down and pick up a small fox. It gives me cold chills to think of those sharp talons piercing into my skin. The poor fox never had a chance. Please watch out for other animals for they too are on the hunt.” Dorka reminded her partner.
Dorka had a clutch of 11 eggs and she was very proud of them. Her feathers were darker with dusky spotting. Frazel’s feathers were as white as the snow which allowed him to blend in well with the white conditions.
Dorka would care for her eggs and defend her nest against all predators. Frazel was the only mate she had ever been with. The couple was dedicated to each other and would protect their young even against the evil wolves who made it their mission to steal owl eggs.
“I’m so glad I had a good summer. I ate well and that is the reason for all of these beautiful eggs.” Dorka sighed. She could not wait until they hatched. She was hoping that she would have more boys this time than girls. Her last clutch was mostly girls. They had cared for them until they were able to find food on their own. Now they were making nest and laying eggs as well. The better the food supply the more eggs they would lay.
It wasn’t long until Frazel returned with a lemming and drop it in the nest for Dorka. He turned quickly and returned to his perch. He would have to find several more to keep them fed well for the day. He normally ate three or four himself. Now Dorka would need about that many as well. He had his work cut out for him so he went quickly about his business.
The snow storms came and went. It wasn’t long until the eggs began to hatch and the young owls popped their heads out of the shells.
“Oh Frazel just look at the little fuzzy babies we have. I do believe we have more males this time. My prayers were answered. Males are just so beautiful with all their white plumage. I wish we had such glistening white feathers as well but we can’t all be alike.” She said as she lowered her head to touch one of the bobbing heads in the nest.
“I guess I will have to try and nab a few rabbits today. Tomorrow I will look for some fish. We must eat well and stay strong. The stronger we are the better we can protect our babies and ourselves. Perhaps this summer we can look for a better place for a larger nest. If we are to keep this place supplied with owls, we need a larger nest for the eggs. It needs to be stronger as well.” He cautioned.
“This summer we can roam on the marshes and the beaches. I just love to walk along the waters edge. It is such a romantic place!” Dorka replied.
“It won’t be too romantic this year with all these little ones following close behind us.” He chuckled.
Dorka gathered her babies underneath her feather to keep them warm. When Frazel returned she would tear off pieces of meat and feed them. She knew they were getting hungry.
“Well I have done it again. I have a huge rabbit and now we can all eat.” Frazel hooted loudly. He was a proud husband and a very proud father. “If they eat all of this, I’ll just go back for more.” He winked.
Dorka watched as Frazel began to pull the hair off and place it around her. Then he pulled out small pieces of meat and gave to her to feed the babies. Once they were fed, the two of them would eat.
“We have a great life here Dorka. Some larger animals are having a hard time finding enough food. We are very fortunate this year. When the children grow up we can think about migrating to Canada for a while. We both need a vacation.” He remarked softly.
So it came to be that the babies did grow up quickly upon the fish from the beach. Dorka and Frazel did migrate to Canada remaining very loyal to each other. They have not had any more babies and are planning to wait a few years before having more.
The frozen tundra is once again white with snow and the sound of the wind howls in the night. Another winter has come and tiny animals have tunneled under the snow sleeping until warmer weather.
Question: Which owl is totally white in color, the female or the male?
Written by Sybil Shearin
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