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Monday, December 09, 2013

NY City JFK Airport Now Shooting Snowy Owls!

Showy Owls are in the crosshairs at NY City Airports

The Port Authority has shot three of them so far.

Update, Tues., Dec. 10th.
Good news, since I wrote the blog post below, the NY Port Authority has changed its policy and will stop shooting the Snowy Owls and instead trap and remove them. Read my update here.

I was interviewed for a story in today's New York Daily News whose headline and tease is is "Hoot To Kill... Exclusive: Whooo'd be so cruel? Port Authority declares open season on adorable snowy "Harry Potter' owl at JFK airport." This is terrible news for Snowy Owls, especially when there may be a better, safer way to handle the issue that these magnificent birds, who leave their tundra home in times of food stress, seek out tundra-like habitat, such as airports, coastal dunes and fields in the lower U.S. I told the reporter that Boston's Logan Airport has a ace raptor bander, Norm Smith, who traps and removes the Snowy Owls who show up at Logan Airport, safely releasing the elsewhere. She did also interview Norm and there is a separate story on him in the paper.

The NY Port Authority gave permission for Snowy Owls to be exterminated at NY City airports and three have been shot so far. Owls are an issue for plane safety since they could be sucked into a plane engine. The news story has a quote "Even a wildlife specialist didn't understand why they were being killed because they are not part of a large population and they are easy to catch and relocate, unlike seagulls." Norm said that even though a Snowy Owl could get sucked into a jet engine,"its not like a flock of geese that is going to take out more than one engine and bring down a plane."

Snowy Owls are showing up in the U.S. in huge numbers this year and have been seen as far south as NC and Bermuda. These owls live in the tundra and must leave in winter when there is not enough food because of a drop in their prey (the lemming population) or there is a bumper crop of owls. They then irrupt south in large numbers and seek out tundra-like habitat and hope to find things they can eat like rodents, waterfowl, etc. Don and I saw 9 on the NH Coast on Nov. 30th, and I got the above photos taken from a distance in a car. See my blog post and more photos on the Snowy Owls here.

Birders across much of the eastern part of the country are being thrilled at seeing Snowy Owls, a lifer for many. One issue has been to educate people to keep a respectful distance from the owls for observing or photography, so as not to disturb them as they need to conserve energy and hunt for food. Now this! When are we going to be more sensitive to the needs of wildlife and find win-win solutions when the presence of wildlife may come in conflict with human needs.

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