Here in the U.S., today is Thanksgiving — and everyone involved with Project SNOWstorm is especially grateful for the extraordinary generosity of our supporters, who have made this experiment in highly collaborative, crowd-funded science such an incredible success over the past five years.
With your help, we’ve done amazing things. Project SNOWstorm has assembled a superb team of more than 40 researchers, banders, veterinarians and other experts across North America, many at the top of their fields. They largely volunteer their services because they believe in what we’re trying to do — using innovative science to understand snowy owls, and engaging people in their conservation through outreach and education.
We’ve deployed the latest in tracking technology on more than 70 snowy owls, working closely with our partners at CTT to constantly refine and expand what these next-gen transmitters can do. Today, we can record incredibly precise location, altitude and flight speed data on a wild owl as frequently as every six seconds, with on-board temperature sensors and accelerometers adding additional layers of information, all powered by sunlight. We have even more exciting advances in the pipeline for this winter, which we’ll be sharing soon.
This summer we worked with colleagues at the Owl Research Institute to tag — for the first time anywhere — juvenile snowy owls at the nest in Alaska, to track their survival and movements during a phase of life about which nothing is known. We’ll be expanding this work next year with colleagues in Canada, Greenland and Europe.
We’ve made great strides in the lab, where our team of veterinarians and wildlife pathologists, working with state and federal agencies, educational institutions and wildlife rehabbers, are learning more than we’ve ever known about the health of snowy owls when they come south to spend the winter with us. No one has ever studied the condition of these owls in such detail, and what we’re discovering is helping conservationists to identify the often hidden threats that 21st century humanity poses to these birds.
What we learn is disseminated through peer-reviewed journals, the popular media and other outlets, and we’re supporting a Ph.D. student at McGill University who is diving deeply into our data to answer previously unanswerable questions about snowy owl ecology. At the same time, our partners at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary are developing elementary and secondary school curricula about snowy owls, using our data (and we happily share our raw data with teachers and students who can use it for classroom projects).
What we’ve discovered about the winter ecology of snowy owls is critical for preserving them in the years to come. There’s no time to lose. Recently, scientists have realized that the global population of snowy owls had long been badly overestimated, and is barely a tenth of what it was once thought to be — only about 28,000 adult snowies worldwide. That means each one is precious. With climate change altering the Arctic environments where they breed, and the landscapes on which they depend in winter here in the south under grave pressure, we’re racing to understand what these birds need to survive before it’s too late.
We mount one fundraising campaign each year to support all that we do, and as we begin this year’s, we hope you’ll consider making a tax-deductible donation to Project SNOWstorm. You can learn a lot more about our plans for this winter on our website, and meet some of the many faces behind the project.
Whether you’ve been with us from the beginning or have just learned about our work, your support is vital. Because we are entirely funded by donations from the public, we literally can’t do this without you.
On behalf of everyone at Project SNOWstorm, thank you.