It’s another big year for the majestic white birds from the north.
Snowy owls summer in the Arctic. Sometimes they fly south in the winter in big migrations called irruptions. In a typical year, we might end up with a few dozen snowy owls in the Great Lakes region.
But in an irruption year the owls can come south by the hundreds or even thousands.
Since then, three more owls have been fitted with transmitters in Michigan. “Chippewa” was caught and released near the town of Pickford in the U.P. “Prairie Ronde” was banded near Vicksburg and released in Prairie Ronde Township, in Kalamazoo County. "Whitefish Point" is the newest owl to be banded. She occupies territory next to Chippewa in the U.P.
Rich Keith is the director of the Kalamazoo Valley Bird Observatory. He and his wife Brenda are part of a small team of people in Michigan who are fitting snowy owls with satellite tags. They went up to the U.P. in early February to look for snowies.
“Trapping snowy owls turns out to be rather difficult. We spent as many as 12 hours each day in single-digit-and-lower temps and often pretty good wind. Oh, and there was snow too,” he says.
Researchers know relatively little about what snowy owls do when they're here in our region. So, this tagging project will provide a lot of data for scientists.
“We know the harsh but stable habitat the snowy owls occupy is undergoing rapid and extreme change. This charismatic species has used areas like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to a greater or lesser extent for a long time. With the changes occurring in their northern range we think how they use this wintering habitat may be of crucial value to the species,” says Keith.
He says he never imagined he’d get a chance to work with snowy owls.
*Editor's note: Owl banders in Michigan caught and tagged a fourth snowy owl in Michigan since we posted this story. We've updated the story and the headline.