Snowy Owls and Airports

Snowy owl in front of plane at Logan Airport by Norman Smith

Why Airports?

As snowy owls migrate north and south, they look for stopping places that resemble their home, the Arctic tundra. To them, the land around Boston Logan International Airport fits the bill. It's low and flat, with short scruffy plants and grasses, and there’s an abundance of small mammals and birds to eat.

Logan Airport has the largest known concentration of snowy owls in the Northeast. The birds usually show up at the airport in early November; the earliest date recorded is October 22. They leave in early April; the latest date recorded is July 7.

The airport owls help by scaring away other birds that might endanger aircraft. Unfortunately, they are large enough to pose a threat themselves. To protect both birds and jets, Smith safely captures and relocates snowy owls each year.

Tracking Relocated Snowy Owls

Since 1997, Smith has attached tiny transmitters to the healthiest owls he relocates. These transmitters send data such as location, temperature, and altitude, enabling researchers to learn more about:

  • Snowy owl migration routes
  • The rate at which they travel
  • If and where they stop along the way
  • Where they spend the breeding season
  • Where they spend the winter

The transmitter batteries last 1-3 years, and the transmitter harnesses fall off once the batteries have worn out. Researchers have worked hard to determine the best size, weight, positioning, and attachment of the transmitters so that they don’t impact the behavior and health of the birds.

Please Note

This work is performed with special permits. The public is not allowed to enter restricted airport property, or to capture any kind of owl or other raptor.

This project is a partnership with the US Geological Survey (USGS) and Boise State University (BSU).