Let me start off by saying that it is great to back in Northern Michigan for another winter (yes, I really do enjoy the winters up here!). I am excited to be continuing our work from last winter of surveying and banding Snowy owls in the area. This year we began our season on December 29th.
The beginning of the season so far has been characterized by relatively low numbers of owls seen. Here in Cheboygan, there seems to be two birds that have been spotted consistently and it would be safe to assume they are going to set-up winter territories in the area. The other spots we monitor have steadily seen an increase in snowy numbers over the last week, and we hope that these numbers will rise as the winter progresses. One thing we have noticed so far is the lack of young owls seen, only one young bird has been observed by us, and the rest have been adults. We are hoping to find more young birds as the season progresses as this can shed light into how the breeding season was for this species this past summer.
Now onto the birds captured so far. On our first day of surveying, we also had our first capture which was very exciting for two reasons. Firstly, because it was a stunning adult male and secondly that it was already wearing a band. This means that this bird was originally banded somewhere else and this information is valuable for many reasons. One of those reasons is that it helps us scientists understand their movement patterns. As it turns out that this bird was originally captured at the Windsor airport in Ontario on Dec 18th, 2018 and released the next day in a woodlot near Kingsville, Ontario. It was aged as an AHY (After Hatch Year) meaning it was in at least its second calendar year of life. When we captured it, I aged it as a ATY (After Third Year) and sexed it as a male. This was determined by patterns of feathers in the wing along with other plumage characteristics. The ATY age code denotes that this bird is at least four years old but could be older. After this, we captured two more birds on New Year’s Day- a great start to 2021 if you ask me! The first bird was a young male Snowy, this has also been the only young bird seen as before mentioned, and the second bird captured was an adult female. I also aged this bird to be at least in its fourth year of life, and, after sending some pictures to other Snowy researchers they agreed that this bird could even be older based off its flight feathers! Unfortunately, we can’t confidently say the bird is older than four years old for certain because more study is needed on Snowy Owl molt. That’s why we do what we do!
Stay tuned for my next blog about another exciting recapture and for some in-field tips and tricks to help discern female and male Snowys! Until next time, as always, stay classy folks.
2- Newly banded