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Sun Mar 1, 2015, 09:16 AM

 

Project keeps eye on snowy owls in Wisconsin

http://www.jsonline.com/sports/outdoors/project-keeps-eye-on-snowy-owls-in-wisconsin-b99452926z1-294545161.html




Snowy owls are rock stars of the animal kingdom. They are handsome. They are relatively rare. They are impressive hunters. They eat rodents. They are a little mysterious. "When it comes to charismatic wildlife, they are right at the top," said David Brinker, a Racine native and owl researcher who now lives and works in Maryland.

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The owls breed in treeless expanses of the Arctic. Come fall, some of the birds journey south in search of prey. The birds are naturally drawn to open landscapes including farms, prairies, frozen lakefronts and, unfortunately, airfields. Snowy owls have been documented at big-city airports like New York's LaGuardia and Boston's Logan, but also at scores of smaller facilities, including Central Wisconsin Airport in Mosinee. Aviation and wildlife officials are keen to keep the big birds out of harm's way, both in the interest of public safety and for the sake of the animals.

At the intersection of these mutual interests is a conservation opportunity. Project SNOWstorm researchers and volunteers have seized on the chance to capture birds at airports, fit the owls with transmitters, relocate them in suitable habitat well away from the airfields and release them back to the wild.

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The technology used for Project SNOWstorm represents a significant advance in wildlife research. Location data is collected and stored by the transmitters until it can be sent via a cell phone signal. Five birds tagged last winter flew to the Arctic last summer and returned to the U.S. this winter. When they re-entered cell range, Brinker said the data dump was "spectacular." The information allows researchers to see which locations and habitats the birds rely on throughout the year.

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