Tracking Snowy Owls with Project SNOWstorm

Last winter, Snowy Owls moved south in numbers greater than they had in perhaps 50 years. A group of researchers in the northeastern U.S. saw an opportunity to study these birds better than they had been studied before, and quickly put together Project SNOWstorm ( They raised funds to purchase satellite transmitters, which were attached to 22 Snowy Owls from Minnesota to Massachusetts. Daily movements of these birds could be tracked on their website, which provided researchers with a wealth of information on daily movements, hunting patterns, prey preferences, and many other things. Another objective was to track these birds back north at the end of the winter and, with great luck, the hope was perhaps one would be tracked coming back south in the next irruption in maybe 3-5 years. Snowy Owls nest well north of cell phone coverage, which is what is used to download the location data from their satellite transmitters. So it has been a wonderful surprise that two of the owls tagged last winter have already returned! And, with the large number of owls once again evident in the northeast and Great Lakes, the project is gearing up once again.

Last winter, Project SNOWstorm wanted to tag owls from across their range, including Michigan. But efforts to get qualified researchers involved were not successful. This year, things are different, and efforts are already underway to gather together qualified teams of banders to attach satellite transmitters to as many Michigan Snowy Owls as possible. The key to making this work is funding. The researchers who are doing this in several states are entirely volunteer, so the only expense is the transmitters themselves, which the manufacturer is making available at cost ($3000 each). Project SNOWstorm will accept donations from individuals on their website, but in order to make sure that funds are directed to tagging a Michigan owl, both the Kalamazoo Nature Center and Alma College have pledged funds nearly sufficient to purchase two transmitters. And, Michigan Audubon/WPBO has committed to raising funds to purchase at least one transmitter. Last year, organizations in Wisconsin stepped up and purchased four transmitters. We can do better!

Use this link for making online donations via the Michigan Audubon website:

There is a form field that reads “If you would like to make a gift to a specific sanctuary or program, please indicate in the field below.” Please enter “Project SNOWstorm Michigan” in this line, so they can track those gifts.

Otherwise, checks can be made out to Michigan Audubon with “Project SNOWstorm Michigan” in the memo line and mailed to:

Michigan Audubon
PO Box 15249
Lansing, MI 48901