We had some discussion here this winter about a very gloomy blog post
from a birder in the Midwest who was certain the snowy owls showing up
in the U.S. were desperate creatures who were starving and wouldn't
survive the winter.
For whatever it's worth, here's a post by Norman Smith, who's been
banding snowy owls at Logan Airport in Boston (and several other places
in the general vicinity) summing up the season, including some
information about snowy owl populations in general from researchers
who've been studying them up at Baffin Island for some years now.
Bottom line-- the Baffin guys are definitive that it's an abundance of
lemmings that sends Snowys south, not a population crash that causes
them to leave because there isn't enough food (presumably, though he
doesn't say, the excess Snowys that result from the lemming abundance
are pushed out of their normal area for territorial reasons). And Norm
Smith confirms that all the many owls he caught last winter were in
This post was scooped up from the Massbird e-list.
The snowy owl season for this year from November 2011 through May
2012 was a great one. We banded a total of 52 snowy owls and
recaptured an owl we had banded two years ago. Of the owls banded 42
were captured at Logan Airport, 29 were released at Duxbury Beach and
13 released at Plum Island. In addition to the owls banded at Logan
Airport 4 owls were banded at Duxbury Beach and 6 were banded at Plum
All the 53 owls captured were in great condition, good body weight
and excellent feather condition. 46 of the owls were hatch year birds
(Owls that were born last summer) and 7 were after hatch year birds
(owls more than 1 year old). There were five snowy owls found dead
this season in Massachusetts, 1 hit by a propeller of a Cape Air
plane at Logan, 1 killed by a jet blast at Logan, 1 found dead on
Deer Island that died from rodenticide poison, 1 found dead at Plum
Island that had a broken wing and 1 found dead at Plum Island that
had a pellet stuck in its throat from the teeth on the lower jaw of a
rat that had perforated the esophagus and the owl could not
regurgitate the pellet and died.
The last 2 owls that were captured at Logan were released at Plum
Island on May 11th and May 29th.
From communication with researchers on Baffin Island over the years
when they have a good lemming year like last summer the owls breed
producing lots of young and that is when we see good owl numbers in
Massachusetts. If in fact these owls were leaving the arctic because
there was no food in the arctic they would probably never make it
here and if they did would not arrive here in good condition.
Over the past 31 years that we have been doing research on snowy owls
the best winter to date was the winter of 1986-87 when we banded 43
snowy owls at Logan Airport. This past winter was the second best
with 42 banded at Logan.
Thanks to the Nuttall Ornithological Club we were able to put a
satellite transmitter on one of the owls to track its movements.
Check out our web site to track this owl.
Mass Audubon Blue Hills Sanctuary
1904 Canton Ave.
Milton, MA 02186
617 333-0690 ext 222
nsmith AT massaudubon.org