On Tuesday afternoon, Gene B. called to report a Snowy Owl in Rice Co. near the intersection of MN 19 and Dakota Co. 59, just within Rice Co. I raced over to find the bird perched on a tall metal grain bin. Due to its extensive barring, this bird is probably a female. The owl was being harassed by a small flock of Snow Buntings (as you can see in the upper left corner of the photo).
With the buntings gone, the owl preened and scratched, occasionally checking for additional bunting attacks. Snowy Owls are birds dependent on Arctic lemming populations. When lemming populations crash, the following winter Snowy Owls make their way south. I have read that, if Snowy Owls do not see lemmings in the spring, the owls do not ovulate. The next year lemmings begin to recover, as do the owls. When lemmings are abundant in the arctic, these owls consume nearly 2000 per year.
Snowy Owls are adapted for cold weather. Tuesday's 25 degrees F. must have been a heat wave for a Snowy Owl. I have never seen this posture. I suspect the owl was trying to "unbutton" its down coat to cool off during this relatively warm day!