Tracking snowy owls during winter migration

PICKFORD — As the landscapes around us change it becomes important to observe how such change affects the wildlife who inhabit these areas.

Since 2013 the Maryland DNR has been working with a number of eastern states attaching transmitters to snowy owls who migrate into the area during winter.

It’s called Project Snowstorm and Michigan is home to three such owls, one of which is in the Upper Peninsula. Her name is Chippewa and so far the data shows that she isn’t a fan of getting out and about.

“Of all the owls that we’ve tracked so far Chippewa is, the simplest description, a home girl,” said David Brinker, Central Region Ecologist with the Maryland DNR. “She hardly moves. A little way of describing her data is she’s burning a hole in the map.”

What that means is there is probably an ample supply of food in the immediate area.

Owl banders from the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory are attempting to attach a transmitter to a second owl near Chippewa to determine if lack of movement is specific to the owl or the area.

The gathered data will help states when caring for these areas.

“We’re living in a changing world,” Brinker said. “The global warming that is going on is going to impact areas like the Arctic far sooner and far more seriously than it impacts us down here at the middle latitudes. We’re already seeing issues with polar bears and we’re learning from tracking them that snowy owls key in on ice and things like that. As the conditions in the Arctic change it might get very difficult for adult owls to use the habitats and survive in the way they have in the past.”

Data on the owls’ movements is transmitted every seven days and uploaded to the Project Snowstorm website at the end of each week.

You can track along with Chippewa, or any of the owls, on the Project Snowstorm website.