Category Archives: Owl Banding 2020

Inaugural Snowy Owl Season 2020 in the Books!

   As we all sit at home during these chaotic times and try to find things to do during our quarantine, let me give you a final update from our Snowy owl project this winter. It is the perfect distraction if you ask me!

   Since I last reported on owls, we stood at 5 owls captured for the season including an exciting foreign retrap that we found out is at least 6 years old and was originally captured at the Detroit metro Airport.  Then we had many days of “poor weather” or at least what we considered poor in regards to attempting to catch owls. The only day that seemed to be good was March 30th. Therefore, we decided to make one more trip to our various sites to see what owls were still around. On this trip I was accompanied by Steve Baker a longtime volunteer, supporter and board member of MSRW. Now before we go any further, we drove separately as to respect the “social distancing” rule just in case anybody was concerned that we were not adhering to the CDC’s guidelines amidst the global pandemic that is going on. Anyways enough on that…

  As luck would have it, we set out late afternoon around dusk. Why? Well because this is when the Snowys start to wake from their day long rest and are eager to start hunting again. In the two sites Steve and I checked we were able to count 17 owls. As luck continued to be on our side, we found a gorgeous male snowy in a perfect spot in which we could attempt to catch him. After we set-up it only took him a few minutes before he noticed the trap and he almost instantly came in and was captured. We were both super excited to be able to finish the season catching yet another stunning adult male owl that was as pure white as dare I say… toilet paper! Now based of this bird’s flight feathers we were able to determine that this was another older adult male at least in his 4th year of life and to boot was in good condition. A great way to end the season if you ask me.

   All we can do now is wish all the Snowy owls the best of luck as they make their arduous journey back north to their breeding grounds on the tundra wherever lemmings may be. I can say truthfully that this season was a success and that all involved with this project learned a lot about these birds and we will be ready for their return next winter! Until then let’s enjoy all the neo-tropical migrants that are showing up reassuring us that the natural processes of life continue despite whatever situation we as a species may find ourselves in. Until next time, as always stay classy and healthy.

Nick Alioto

Winter Snowy owl banding totals:

6 – SNOW (3 Males & 3 Female)

1  Female was a Foreign Recapture from 2014 (Captured at Detroit Metro Airport) released in Lansing.

SNOW DAY! (Snowy Owl Project Update)

   Since my first blog post regarding the work we have started with the Snowy owls we have more exciting news for you fine folks on what we have been up to. We have continued to count and trap at our various sites and to our avail have managed to catch two more owls. This time two adult females, one was aged to be in at least its 4th year of life based on its flight feathers, while the other was already banded!

  Now one of the reasons we band birds is in the hopes that other researchers and banders will recover our birds to help fill in the gaps of where these birds were and where they move to and potentially to see how migration paths may change over time. It is pretty uncommon to catch what we refer to as a “foreign bird” which means it was banded in a different area other our study site. Since there is only a small fraction of birds banded each year in terms of how many birds make up that particular species’ whole population it’s super exciting to catch one of the few that have been banded.

   The story of the second Snowy captured goes like this; she was originally captured at the Detroit metro airport. We don’t have any information yet in regards to when this bird was banded and if an age and sex were given to her at the time of capture. We then know she was relocated and released at the Rose Lake Research Station near Lansing on January 4th, 2014. Now just based on this alone this bird is at least 6 years old! She could potentially be older though but we await more information. This is cool to think about how many trips this bird has made to the arctic and back and how many “air miles” she has accumulated. It makes me think that she probably has put more miles in flying the last six years then I have put miles on my car, pretty crazy to think about. We wish her the best on her migration back north and hope she will make the trip to Michigan for many winters to come. Snowy monitoring is almost nearing its end for this winter but if we have any more news, I will be sure to inform all of my and MSRW fans and followers. In the meantime, stay tuned for posts as we begin our spring project of capturing diurnal raptors in Mackinaw. As always stay classy,

Wing of Foreign Recaptured Snowy owl. She is at least 6 years old

Nick Alioto

Winter Snowy owl banding totals:

5 – SNOW (2 Males & 3 Female)

1  Female was a Foreign Recapture from 2014 (Captured at Detroit Metro Airport) released in Lansing.

Snowy Owl Project Winter 2020

   Greetings once again fellow supporters and followers of MSRW. Some of you may remember me from such field seasons that include the 2017 spring/fall owl banding and from the spring 2019 banding season. For those of you who don’t know me my name is Nick Alioto. I am a biologist, and some might even say “ornithologist” that has been doing many bird related jobs over the last few years. This has allowed me to travel all over this beautiful continent. Once again, l have returned to this particular area of the country to take part in some new projects associated with MSRW. They just can’t seem to keep me away!

   This winter I came back so that we could start a pilot project to monitor the Snowy owls that over winter here in Northern Michigan. As many of you know these owls migrate down from their breeding grounds in the Arctic and many spend their winter in various locations throughout Northern Michigan. Also, it should be noted this is one species of owl that is easily recognizable and well known among even many non-bird enthusiasts. Now, one of the components to this study was to monitor these birds at various spots throughout the winter to see how numbers fluctuate throughout the winter months. The second part is to attempt to catch and band some owls. The latter part being the more exciting part of this project, at least for me!

    Now let’s talk about how you catch these birds. As you can imagine it is not the easiest task. These birds are all very different in terms of their behavior. To give you fine folks an estimate of how difficult it can be to catch these birds let me explain. We roughly began to monitor these birds in mid-January. It was not for lack of effort but our first captured bird finally occurred on February 8th. Might I add that this involved many trips to various locations where either a bird was not interested in what we had to offer or by some stroke of luck we would get a bird to come in to our trap only to have It escape once we got close to getting our hands on the bird. Despite all the failures in the beginning, it was great to learn more about these birds behaviors through a lot of observation and trial and error.

   After reaching out to get advice from other various Snowy owl banders and researchers, we now stand at a total of 3 newly banded Snowy owls. Two stunning adult males and one adult female. Needless to say, we are very excited to have caught this many so far and hopefully will capture a few more before these nomadic birds move even further north and disappear for another year. We will continue to monitor these birds until the end of March. Stay tuned for more exciting news from the Snowy owl project and MSRW. Until next time stay classy folks.

Nick Alioto

First Snowy Owl captured of the project. A stunning adult male aged to be in at least its 4th year of life!

Winter Snowy owl banding totals:

3 – SNOW (2 Males & 1 Female)