Dorval, A Feathered Boomerang

Scott WeidensaulUpdates3 Comments

The buffet at the airport is just too tempting: Dorval’s route back to Montréal.
(©Project SNOWstorm and Google Earth)

With the continuing cooperation of Falcon Environmental Services at Montréal-Trudeau International Airport, we have another tagged snowy owl in southern Québec — Dorval, an adult female named for a community that borders the airport and a nearby island in the St. Lawrence River.

Dorval weighed a plump 2.5 kg (5.6 lbs), likely a reflection of the prey base at the airport. (©Rebecca McCabe)

Dorval is, as they say, “known to authorities” — she was first trapped at the airport on Jan. 26, 2017, and aged at the time as an after-third-year adult, meaning she was in at least her fourth calendar year of life, perhaps older. (There are limits to how precisely we can age owls based on their flight feather molt, but each time we recapture a previously banded owl and examine its molt pattern, we learn a little more.)

This time, she was trapped by FES staffer Julie Lecours on Saturday, Jan. 11, and fitted with a transmitter by Project SNOWstorm team member Rebecca McCabe, who is working on her Ph.D. at nearby McGill University analyzing our massive owl movement database.

“She weighed 2.6 kg [5.75 lbs.] and had a body condition index of 4-4.5” out of a possible 5, Rebecca reported, “so there must be a 24-hour buffet at the airport!” Rebecca moved Dorval 68 km (42 miles) southwest into Ontario, releasing her in farmland near the town of Bainsville.

Off she goes — headed back to the airport again. (©Rebecca McCabe)

Sad to say, Dorval hasn’t been terribly cooperative. She quickly crossed the St. Lawrence into Le Haut-Saint-Laurent regional county, the toe of Québec that juts between Ontario and the U.S. border. Dorval spent two days just a few miles north of Westville, NY, but then began drifting back toward Montréal.

In the wee hours of the night of Jan. 19-20 she crossed the river again, and has been back at the airport ever since, having made a 190-km (118-mile) trip since her capture — apparently that 24-hour buffet is just too tempting. FES will continue to try to catch and re-relocate her, and in the meantime, we hope she has learned enough in her many years to steer clear of the jets.

Good News Across the Board
City Owl, Country Owl

3 Comments on “Dorval, A Feathered Boomerang”

  1. What an unbelievable job you all are doing! I read your updates with avidity…cannot get enough…and follow the snowies’ flight patterns with great interest. Because we live in Syracuse, I am familiar with these parts of Canada and the U.S. I come from the Midwest originally, so I can visualize the prairie and cities. what a bonanza for viewers like me.

    QUESTION: Can you tell me if west of the Mississippi snowies show up? if so, does anyone study them?

    Thank you for the difficult and exhausting work you do. xo

    1. Georgia, I’m not an expert on anything bird-related, but I can give you a link to an interactive online map that shows Snowy Owls that have been reported by eBird users. You can drag the map to see different areas, and zoom-in and out to get a feel for density of sightings. The options at the top-right also allow you to change the time period, and let you look back at past years to see how they compare. Link:

      This winter, not many Snowies have been reported west of the Mississippi, except in North and South Dakota. The birds also haven’t moved very far south, compared to other years (especially the huge “irruption” years).

      I hope this is helpful. Enjoy!

  2. Congratulations on adding another member to your snowy owl family!
    Dorval sounds like she is enjoying life at the airport, hope the next relocation will be more successful.

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