A snowy owl named Prairie Ronde has become the latest addition to Project SNOWstorm, a collaborative effort to track the giant raptors that have descended into Michigan in recent winters from their typical home in the tundra.
Once a rare sight, the birds have begun to move into northern states, including Michigan and Wisconsin, and states in the Northeast. They sometimes create a dangerous nuisance on airports, where they like to perch to watch for mice and voles across the open expanse that may resemble the tundra to them, said Rich Keith of the Kalamazoo Valley Bird Observatory.
The large birds, with wingspans of up to five-and-a-half feet, can interfere with flights.
Her transmitter was funded by donations to Project SNOWstorm, a study of the birds’ movements.
Last year 22 snowy owls were fitted with transmitters, four in Wisconsin and the rest in the Northeast.
This year, Michigan joined the effort, with transmitters for birds trapped in the Upper Peninsula, Grand Rapids and Saginaw.
Last year far more than usual of the birds were sighted in Michigan, and at first scientists thought it might be due to a food shortage in the north.
Abundant lemmings, a food source there, led to lots of young birds hatching the summer before last, and the reasoning was that perhaps those young birds were forced to fly far out of their way to successfully compete for food when winter came, Keith said.
Snowy owls can lay up to eight eggs, and raise all off the nest when there is an abundant lemming population, Keith said.
But where they travel and when has been somewhat of a mystery, and the transmitters may shed some light. Keith said the hope is to learn more about how the owls are using wintering habitat, where are they coming from, and what kind of habitat and food are they looking for.