About Project SNOWstorm
From the Project SNOWstorm website:
Project SNOWstorm was created in the winter of 2013-14 to study the largest invasion of snowy owls in the East in nearly a century. Project SNOWstorm is a unique collaboration of more than 40 scientists, bird-banders and wildlife health professionals, all working as volunteers. This winter, with a second major irruption taking shape (especially in the Midwest), our team is expanding its research into this beautiful and mysterious raptor, using state-of-the-art telemetry, banding, DNA and isotope analysis, toxicology screening and more -- all funded by the public. With cutting-edge tracking technology, we can follow the movements of snowy owls in astounding detail, and potentially for years at a time. But we need your help to quickly raise funds to purchase additional transmitters.Collaborating scientists in Project SNOWstorm are tagging owls throughout the Northeast and Great Lakes with new GPS-GSM transmitters made by Cellular Tracking Technologies of Somerset, PA.
How the Transmitter Works
These solar-powered transmitters record locations in three dimensions (latitude, longitude and altitude) at programmable intervals as short as every 30 seconds, providing unmatched detail on the movements of these birds, 24 hours a day. Unlike conventional transmitters, which report their data via Argos satellites in orbit, GSM transmitters use the cellular phone network. When the bird is out of range of a cell tower, the transmitters can store up to 100,000 locations, then transmit that information — even years later — when the bird flies within cell coverage.
The transmitters weigh about 40 grams — about as much as seven U.S. quarters, and only 1.5-3 percent of the bird’s weight. They are attached with a backpack harness made of low-friction Teflon ribbon that goes over the bird’s wings. Studies of snowy owls wearing conventional satellite transmitters in this fashion have found no evidence that they increase mortality or decrease breeding success (Therrien et al. 2012). Still, we’re careful only to tag snowy owls that are in robust health. As experienced researchers, we assess every owl we catch to make sure it is in good shape, with normal weight and healthy fat stores. Any owl that seems questionable will not be tagged.
BSBO's Role in the Project
Black Swamp Bird Observatory has provided the local staff and expertise to tag owls in this part of the Midwest. The first owl we tagged was "Buckeye." Buckeye was tagged by Mark Shieldcastle from Black Swamp Bird Observatory, and released Feb. 15, 2015, in farmland north of Oak Harbor, OH. Buckeye is part of Project SNOWstorm’s and Wildlife Services’s efforts to learn more about the most effective methods and distances to safely relocate owls from airports. She spent the summer of 2015 on the Boothia Peninsula of northern Nunavut, and the winter of 2015-16 around western Lake Erie. Her transmitter was generously sponsored by Black Swamp Bird Observatory and the Kirtland Bird Club.
Our second owl was "Wolverine," and he was tagged on January 3, 2020.
It's an honor to be part of this important study and to play a role in advancing our knowledge and understanding of the behavior and habitat needs of these magnificent birds.