Arctic Sea Ice & the Snowy Owl

Arctic Sea Ice & the Snowy Owl

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“Six of the adult females that we followed in a satellite study
spent most of last winter far out on the Arctic sea ice.”

“It was very surprising, said Therrien, how far the individual
birds migrated from where they were banded on their nesting grounds
on Bylot Island, north of Baffin Island.

“The satellite data showed just how dramatic the owl movements
are. They flew huge distances. One owl went to Ellesmere Island,
another flew straight to North Dakota and a third ended up on
the eastern point of Newfoundland,” he said.
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http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081210143416.htm

Snowy Owl–A Marine Species?

ScienceDaily (Dec. 24, 2008)-Wildlife satellite studies could
lead to a radical re-thinking about how the snowy owl fits into
the Northern ecosystem.


“Six of the adult females that we followed in a satellite study
spent most of last winter far out on the Arctic sea ice,” said
Université Laval doctoral student Jean-Francois Therrien, who
is working with Professor Gilles Gauthier as part of an International
Polar Year (IPY) research project to better understand key indicator
species of Canadian northern ecosystems.

The finding flabbergasted the biologists who are now curious
to find out if Inuit seal hunters ever encounter the large white
birds on the ice in winter darkness.

“As for what the birds were doing there, they were possibly preying
on seabirds,” said Gauthier. “Bird researchers at coastal field
sites have observed snowy owls attacking eiders in winter. This
hypothesis will be strengthened if we can match up the locations
of our birds
with the position of open water leads in the ice as recorded
by other satellite data.”

The researchers find it intriguing that the top Arctic bird predator,
like the top mammal-the polar bear, is also part of the marine
ecosystem. The possible implications for the species will be
discussed by Therrien this Wednesday in Quebec City at the Arctic
Change Conference, one of the largest international research
conferences ever held on the challenges facing the north.

It was very surprising, said Therrien, how far the individual
birds migrated from where they were banded on their nesting grounds
on Bylot Island, north of Baffin Island.

“The satellite data showed just how dramatic the owl movements
are. They flew huge distances. One owl went to Ellesmere Island,
another flew straight to North Dakota and a third ended up on
the eastern point of Newfoundland,” he said.

The researchers say that this winter should provide many southern
Canadians with a better than normal opportunity to see the magnificent
birds.

“We had the largest abundance of lemmings in many years in our
study area this past summer,” said Gauthier. “The owls had no
problems raising young, so we were informally predicting a strong
outward movement of young owls this winter.”

And indeed, judging by numerous newspaper reports and naturalist
sightings, that prediction has already come true.

In fact, if anyone has a really ingenious idea to keep them away
from airports, there is at least one airport authority that would
like to hear from you. One owl-plane collision has already been
reported this year at Montreal-Trudeau International Airport
in Dorval.

“The support from IPY and NSERC and the advances in satellite
technology have given a huge impetus to what promises to be a
revolution in our understanding of this key northern species,”
said Gauthier. That knowledge can’t come soon enough, the two
researchers said.

Jean-Francois Therrien’s presentation “Reproductive success and
long-distance movements of snowy owls: Is this top predator vulnerable
to climate change” took place at the Arctic Change Conference
in Quebec City on December 10.

Therrien received an NSERC Northern Internship for his work,
which was also conducted as part of the NSERC IPY ArcticWOLVES
project based out of Université Laval. Arctic WOLVES stands for
Arctic Wildlife Observatories Linking Vulnerable Ecosystems.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081210143416.htm

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