Snowy Owl Project
Norman Smith, director of Mass Audubon's Blue Hills Trailside Museum,
has always been fascinated by owls. Since 1981 he has spent countless days and nights in every imaginable weather condition studying Snowy Owls, the largest owl in North America. Find out more about Snowy Owls.
As part of his research, he has worked with Logan Airport,
observing and capturing Snowy Owls that could potentially pose a danger to air traffic, banding them and releasing them further along their migration
path.* Unfortunately, Snowy Owls love airports.
To date, Norm has banded 442 Snowy Owls at the airport, and information on where the banded owls have traveled has added to our knowledge of
their breeding area and migration patterns.
In 1997, Norm began working on a project with the US Geological Survey (USGS) and Boise State University (BSU), attaching special, tiny transmitters to some of the owls he captured.
These transmitters periodically send out data such as location, temperature, and altitude. The signal is picked up by a satellite and retransmitted to ARGOS, then sent to BSU in Boise, Idaho, who create maps of where the owls have been.
This gives the researchers much more precise information on:
- the migration routes taken by the owls
- the rate at which they travel
- if and where they stop along the way
- the location they stay in for the breeding season
- where they spend the winter
The transmitter batteries last 1 - 3 years, so if the owl remains alive, they can track its path through several migrations. See maps of the owls' routes.
See incredible video of breeding Arctic birds, including a pair of Snowy Owls with chicks, taken by researchers Gerrit Vyn and Martha Fischer from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology on Bathurst Island in the high Arctic in Canada (the Snowy Owl part starts a 7:30 in the video, but the entire 11 minutes is wonderful).|
*Note: The public is not allowed to go onto restricted airport property, or to catch any kind of owl or other raptor. Norm has a multitude of permits that allow him to capture, band and attach transmitters to snowy owls at the airport.