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2 August 2021, 07:05

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Press Service of the Moscow Zoo

While the crumbs look little like their parents, they are covered with baby gray down. When the chicks mature, they will be sent to leading Russian or foreign zoos.

Snowy owls at the Moscow Zoo brought offspring. Four chicks were born this summer. The species is listed in the International Red Book and belongs to the “vulnerable” category. The natural population of these predatory birds is about 20 thousand individuals, but it is decreasing from year to year.

“The mating season for snowy owls – they are also called polar owls – takes place in winter. In February, a pair of our owls began courtship: the male treated his girlfriend with delicacies, flew around, flapping his wings loudly, and walked alongside, crouching. In the spring, when the snow melted, owls dug a hole in the ground for a nest. While the female incubated the eggs, the male brought her food, and also protected her friend if he felt danger. During this important period of their life, ornithologists tried not to enter the enclosure unnecessarily, ”said Svetlana Akulova, General Director of the Moscow Zoo.

This is the second offspring of the couple. In the past year, owls have shown themselves to be caring and careful parents, so bird watchers hardly take part in raising chicks. Experts only monitor the development of babies. Initial veterinary examination showed that all four chicks were healthy.

While owlets only vaguely resemble their graceful parents, they are covered with childish gray down. Soon, the crumbs will begin to shed. They will acquire white plumage with dark spots by winter.

Small predators eat the same thing as their parents – mice. Chicks are practically independent and, if they themselves find prey, they will try to swallow it. However, sometimes they need help: when there is no food nearby, owlets begin to call their mother loudly and persistently.

The polar owl aviary is located on the new territory of the Moscow Zoo next to the polar bear dwelling. In their natural habitat, these birds nest on hills and coastal ledges. The dwelling of the inhabitants of the capital’s zoo imitates natural reliefs: there are terraces of different heights. The grass in the aviary is not mowed to provide shelter for the chicks. If desired, they can hide in the thickets from noise and prying eyes.

When the owlets grow up, they will be sent to leading Russian or foreign zoos to help create a reserve population of a rare species.

In nature, snowy owls can be found in the tundra in Eurasia, North America and Greenland, on Wrangel Island, on the Novaya Zemlya and Spitsbergen archipelagoes, as well as on other islands washed by the Arctic Ocean. These birds are partially nomadic. Some of them can migrate for wintering, while others remain in nesting places all year round.

Snowy owls prefer to settle in open spaces because it makes it easier for them to hunt. The number of representatives of this species is steadily decreasing. For example, in the middle of the last century, the number of snowy owls in North America halved. The population is damaged by global warming and poaching.

Snowy owls are one of the largest birds on the tundra, with females usually being larger than males. The body length of owls varies from 55 to 70 centimeters, weight reaches two to three kilograms. Birds have a protective coloration – that is, inconspicuous in their habitats. White feathers (from which the species got its name) allow predators to merge with the snow. Females also have dark specks, thanks to which they camouflage themselves in the nest. The eyes are round, bright yellow. Owls do not care about severe frosts: they have very thick plumage and even legs with a beak are protected from the cold by small feathers.

The birds boast keen eyesight and keen hearing. They are able to hear rodents swarming on the ground several kilometers away. During the hunt, predators settle in a high place and watch. Noticing potential prey, they flap their wings sharply, fly up and catch it with their claws. At the same time, they move almost silently. The main diet of polar owls is made by lemmings, less often they feed on hares and ermines. Sometimes they fly into villages and attack ducks, small geese, partridges.

These are solitary birds, they mate only in the mating season. Parents never hunt near nests. Male and female furiously defend the territory near their clutch from natural enemies, including arctic foxes and foxes. Knowing this feature, other birds (for example, seagulls) deliberately settle next to owls – this is how powerful birds guard their nests at the same time.

The life expectancy of wild snowy owls reaches 15 years, in captivity they live up to 30 years.

This summer, at the Center for the Reproduction of Rare Animal Species of the Moscow Zoo, chicks of another rare bird hatched – big bustard… The species is listed in the International Red Book. Great bustards are very secretive and restless, they hardly breed in captivity. These birds joined the exposition of the center in 2005, but only now have they finally adapted and got chicks. The Moscow Zoo became one of the first in the world to obtain offspring from large bustards.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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