Photograph by Daniel J. Cox
Feathers flaring as she comes in for landing, a female resettles on her nest. Her wings can be more than five feet (two meters) across, and she may weigh up to five pounds (two kilograms). The Inupiat call snowy owls ukpik. So dramatic is the sight of these big, powerful white birds against the greens and browns of the summer tundra, so reliable their arrival from distant wintering grounds, that snowy owls have become a symbol of Barrow.
According to Inupiaq educator Jana Harcharek, "the traditional Inupiaq name for Barrow is Ukpiagvik [pronounced Ook-pee-ahg-vik]. It means 'a place to go hunt snowy owls.' " Though the Inupiat have never relied on owls as a major food source, in the past families captured chicks—old enough to have dispersed from the nest but not yet old enough to fly—and briefly kept them near their homes as wild pets.