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GRB teams up with wildlife groups to keep snowy owls safe

GREEN BAY – While Snowy Owls are beautiful birds from the Arctic, they can also pose as a significant wildlife hazard when they choose to hunt and roost at airports.

That’s why Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport (GRB) turned to several wildlife organizations and experts to help capture these birds from the airport grounds and safely relocate them elsewhere.

But the story doesn’t end with the removal of these owls.

“We noticed an increase in Snowy Owls this year,” explained Airport Director Tom Miller. “We normally have a few each winter as they migrate south, but this year we are seeing more of them. That creates a potentially dangerous situation for planes and for the birds.”

GRB reached out to the Northeastern Wisconsin (NEW) Audubon Society to discuss ways to safely remove the owls.
With the help of Winnebago Audubon’s Janet Wissink, NEW Audubon President Erin Giese connected with local falconers and asked for help in relocating Snowies from GRB.

As a result, Fox Cities falconer, Frank Ujazdowski, has led a volunteer effort to help trap owls at GRB.

Upon capture, Ujazdowski then safely releases healthy Snowy Owls at least 60 miles away from the airport into protected wildlife areas, and brings any unhealthy owls to The Feather Wildlife Rehab/Education Center for additional care.

So far, thanks to Ujazdowski, and assistance from local falconers, Bob and Phil, a total of five Snowy Owls have been successfully trapped, with four being released in other areas and one taken to The Feather for further care, until it is healthy enough to be released back to the wild.

But that is not the end of the story. The effort has gone one step further.

The falconers have also partnered with a group called Project SNOWstorm, in which bird biologists are trying to better understand Snowy Owl movements during the winter in the United States, as well as on their breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic, by attaching high tech GPS-GSM transmitters to individual birds.

As a result, one of the captured owls from GRB, who was named Austin after Austin Straubel, has been successfully fitted with a transmitter to track the bird’s travels following his release this past week near the Buena Vista Wildlife Area (Wisconsin Rapids).

Austin’s travels can even be tracked by the public at www.ProjectSNOWstorm.org, which also features a blog about Austin on how he was found and where he was relocated.

He is the fourth Wisconsin Snowy Owl to be fitted with a transmitter this winter and has been safely relocated.
Austin’s transmitter cost is being underwritten jointly by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin.

Project SNOWstorm is based in Pennsylvania and includes a diverse and widespread group of collaborators with years of experience studying Snowy Owls.

The Winnebago Audubon and NEW Audubon Chapters have also provided modest funding for fuel and nets to local falconer, Frank Ujazdowski, for his dedication in leading these volunteer efforts.

“This could not have happened without the help and cooperation of so many individuals and organizations,” added Miller. “It has been great to see everyone coming together for the safety of the birds as well as travelers. And we’re very excited about the added bonus of being able to watch where Austin travels, not just now, but throughout the winter and spring as he migrates north back to the Arctic.”

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