Project SNOWstorm Lands in Geneseo

Project SNOWstorm Lands in Geneseo

iMarch 1, 2015

Researchers behind Project SNOWstorm are hopeful that this project will not only produce useful information about the behavior of snowy owls, but will ultimately better inform conservation efforts.
“Geneseo” a snowy owl that took up residence on protected lands in the Nations Road Grassland this winter, is now part of this important research project.

Tom McDonald of Rochester has been studying snowy owls in New York for two and half decades, and because of that long experience, his insights into snowy owl behavior are all but unmatched. We thought you’d like to hear more about what goes into catching these spectacular raptors.

“If I have learned anything about snowy owls in the last 25 years,” Tom said, “it’s the fact that they are the Marcel Marceaus of the bird world.”

“No other raptor on the planet is more expressive and ‘talkative’ than a snowy. In their own unique way, they will tell you if they are agitated by something, as well as what is bothering them. They will let you know if your trap presentation is enticing or whether it represents nothing more than entertainment value — something to pass the boredom.”

Tom had watched the owl extensively before trying to trap him, and his individual personality played a big role in how and when he decided to try to catch him.

“Geneseo” as the owl was named, has been wintering in Livingston County, New York, about 25 miles southwest of Rochester. “Geneseo is an extremely aggressive adult male (they typically defend nesting and wintering territories vigorously) and I watched him chase another adult male literally out of the County in the early hours of darkness the day before I trapped him,” Tom said.

Most snowy owls look for a high perch in the final hours before sunrise, watching for a last meal before crows, hawks and other annoyances start their day.

“Geneseo was different,” Tom said. “He was roosting on the ground early on the morning that I captured him, but was still in charge of his surroundings, standing at attention in his favorite spot 400 yards out in an open field.”
“My experience with aggressive individuals has shown that even if the owl has had a successful night hunting, he will pursue enticing prey just to keep other predators from having it,” Tom said.

That was the case with Geneseo, which Tom caught less than 15 minutes after setting up his rig. “If I had not had the opportunity to study him the night before, I would not have set up on an owl so far out in the field,” he said.
You can follow Geneseo’s movements at www.projectsnowstorm.org on an interactive map and learn about this research project.