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Pa. program helps fund study of snowy owls - abc27 WHTM

Pa. program helps fund study of snowy owls

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Womelsdorf, named after the town near where he was caught, is one of 20 owls that were captured and outfitted with solar-powered GPS transmitters. (Submitted photo) Womelsdorf, named after the town near where he was caught, is one of 20 owls that were captured and outfitted with solar-powered GPS transmitters. (Submitted photo)
HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

A Pennsylvania conservation program will fund a transmitter to track a snowy owl captured in Berks County this winter after hundreds of the birds moved out of their Arctic home.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Wild Resource Conservation Program provided $3,000 for the transmitter that will track the movements of Womelsdorf, a young male snowy owl that spent the winter hunting the farm fields of western Berks County, DCNR Secretary Ellen Ferretti said in a news release.

Womelsdorf, named after the town near where he was caught, is one of 20 owls that were captured and outfitted with solar-powered GPS transmitters.

Hundreds of snowy owls moved as far south as Florida and west to the Great Lakes states this winter during the largest "irruption" in a half century.

Project Owlnet, a network of U.S. and Canadian owl researchers, will use the transmitters to help better understand the southerly movement of snowy owls.

The multi-state effort, which is based at the Ned Smith Center for Nature and the Arts in Millersburg, is utilizing a technology never before used to track an owl's movements.

Birds from a range of habitats, from ocean coast to farmlands to urban areas, have been tagged to gain the best sense possible of how they move and behave during an irruption.

"It's ironic that we know more about the ecology of snowy owls on their breeding grounds in the Arctic than we do about their winter ecology when they're down here," Project Owlnet's co-director, Scott Weidensaul, said in the news release.

"The incredibly detailed tracking data we're getting has already produced a host of unexpected discoveries about where and how these owls move across the landscape, what habitats they use by day and at night, their hunting behavior and a lot more."

"We've found that some are home-bodies, rarely straying more than a half a mile from where they were tagged, while others have roamed hundreds of miles across multiple states," Weidensaul said.

"Some specialize in hunting waterbirds at night over the ocean, while others have spent weeks on end hunting ducks and gulls in cracks in the ice on Lake Erie, miles from shore. There have been almost weekly revelations."

Anytime Womelsdorf passes within range of a cell phone tower in Canada or the U.S., the unit will download all of its data to Project Owlnet.

The small device can store up to 100,000 data locations, each indicating Womelsdorf's latitude, longitude, altitude and speed. It should continue operating throughout the bird's life.

Anyone can follow Womelsdorf's travels or those of his fellow owls by visiting Project SNOWstorm at www.projectsnowstorm.org.

 

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