Tag Archives: snowy owls

Snowy Owl © Paul Malenfant

Take 5: Superb Snowy Owls

They’re here! Snowy Owls have arrived from their breeding grounds in the Arctic and can be spotted at Plum Island, Duxbury Beach, and other open, treeless areas near the coast through March—if you make the trip to see Snowy Owls this winter, please protect these beautiful raptors by viewing them from a safe and respectful distance at public sites and do not approach them.

Norman Smith, the former director of Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum, is keeping busy in his retirement by continuing his Snowy Owl rescue and research efforts: The first report of a Snowy Owl at Logan Airport this season came in on November 5, so he hurried down to capture the owl, take some measurements and research notes, and release it at Duxbury Beach.

Norman reports that it was a healthy “hatch-year” bird (meaning it was born this past summer), which suggests there was good breeding this year in the region of the Arctic where this particular owl was born. Historically, since he started with the Snowy Owl Project in 1981, Norman would capture almost all hatch-year birds, but the past several winters saw predominantly adults arriving in Massachusetts, a poor sign for breeding success. Norman says his colleagues in Greenland reported their best breeding year since 1998 this past summer, while others in Barrow, Alaska, reported no breeding at all, so it can vary dramatically by location due to a number of factors, including climate change.

Snowy Owls predominantly feed on rodents called lemmings, so the success of lemming populations affects Snowy Owl populations: when there’s a boom in lemmings, we see a rise in the number of hatch-year owls traveling south. Lemmings are now facing increased pressure from climate change, such as rising temperatures, milder winters, shifting weather patterns, and changes in vegetation, which makes breeding success more difficult. So a decline in hatch-year Snowy Owls can signal climate impacts across entire food chains.

Enjoy these five photos of Snowy Owls from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest, then visit our website to learn how you can support our work to monitor and protect these beautiful birds and where and how to observe Snowy Owls yourself.

Snowy Owl © A. Grigorenko
Snowy Owl © A. Grigorenko
Snowy Owl © Jenny Zhao
Snowy Owl © Jenny Zhao
Snowy Owl © Paul Malenfant
Snowy Owl © Paul Malenfant
Snowy Owl © Sara Silverberg
Snowy Owl © Sara Silverberg
Snowy Owl © Karen Walker
Snowy Owl © Karen Walker

Releasing Snowy Owl no. 26

On Monday, January 29, Norman Smith (director at Blue Hills Trailside Museum) carefully captured a snowy owl at Logan Airport (for the safety of the owl and the planes). The next day, he released it on Duxbury Beach.

Norman Smith with Snowy Owl

Snowy owls are attracted to Logan because the landscape resembles the Arctic tundra and there are plenty of rodents and waterfowl to eat. This was the 26th snowy owl he has relocated from Logan this winter.

After safely capturing it, he brought it back to Trailside to measure, weigh, and band it. The following day, he fed the owl then safely puts it in the car and heads to Duxbury Beach to release it.

To drive on Duxbury Beach you need a permit. If you do come, please read the signs and stay off the dunes for the safety of the beach and wildlife.

Duxbury Beach

Once at a good spot, Norman retrieves the owl. He has been doing this for more than 25 years and knows the best way to handle the owl. Before letting him go, Norman shared a few words about the owl, including that it’s a second year bird (probably born in June 2017). You can tell by its uniform feathers and no sign of molt.

Once released the owl doesn’t go far. Can you see him? He’s in the center at the edge of the beach just before the water.

Snowy Owl on Beach

You don’t have to brave the wind and cold to see a snowy owl up close. At Blue Hills Trailside Museum in Milton, there are 2 snowy owls in the wildlife exhibit—they have been injured and wouldn’t survive in the wild.

Snowy owls at Trailside

How You Can Help

You can help support Norman’s work protecting and studying snowy owls by making a donation to the Snowy Owl Project.