Raptors are everywhere this year and Snowy Owls have been visiting again like last year’s irruption. Reducing the rodent population is good for gardeners though. Today, I am at our GardenFest meeting, planning for the event to be held in June.
But last week, I attended a talk on snowy owls at January’s Buffalo Ornithological Society meeting. I have been scanning open snow-covered fields in our area hoping to see more. I am only up to seeing nine so far.
I do love winter for all the bird life that can only be seen during our colder months. But it is time to start thinking flowers, at least for those of us involved in preparing events like garden walks and festivals.
Last year, the speaker at our birding meeting saw 89 as she participated in the Project SNOWstorm banding and count.
Owls landing at airports across our area need to be trapped and relocated. The birds have minimal experience with humans or machines, especially planes. Owls are heavy birds and have trouble getting out-of-the-way of planes, posing a great threat to aviation. Airports are some of the most reliable places to see the owls for birdwatchers.
Last year at JFK and LaGuardia, the Airport Port Authority took a hit for shooting the owls and much uproar from the public ensued. The policy was quickly changed to trap and relocation.
Snowy owl populations thrive in Northern Quebec and tend to follow four-year cycles, so our area may be seeing them come into Western New York for a few more winters.
How do they trap the owls for research and banding?
They use what is called a bow-net. It is a bit like a big spring-loaded hockey net, mouse trap contraption we were told. They bait it with a live pigeon. I bet you thought mice!
The trapper waves a pigeon above his head, the pigeon flaps frantically, then when the owl notices, the trapper stakes the jesses on the pigeon to the ground. The pigeon wears a protective leather jacket with blinders to keep it from the owl’s talons. The blinders help the pigeon to not see what is about to happen.
When the unsuspecting owl swoops in to snatch the anxious pigeon, the net springs up over it, harmlessly pinning it to the ground. The owl is banded and some are outfitted with a radio transmitter. The pigeon lives another day hopefully. No word on how many pigeons die from stress or fright. I do know birds are easily stressed, but owls take this process rather nonchalantly. We were told it is because they have little knowledge of people and it is why they settle down so quickly, just indignantly waiting for release.
I think the owl above was looking at me rather suspiciously! The one opening the post was surly taunting in his stare. See Nature and Wildlife Pics for a take on what a professional photographer posted on taking risks. Needless to say, I have more to add.