WFA Falconers Relocate Snowy Owls at Airports

In a recent news story, a Snowy Owl was recently killed legally at Wittman Regional Airport. Snowy Owls are migratory birds under protection of the Federal Migratory Bird Act, but in instances where birds can pose a threat to human life the airports can obtain legal permission to shoot the birds. On Dec. 7, Janet Wissink, Pat Fisher from The Feather Wildlife Rehab and Education Center and falconer Frank Ujazdowski sat in a meeting at Wittman Airport with Moll, Airport Operations Manager Pete Rausch, a representative from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Robert Warnke, chairman of the Winnebago County Board’s aviation committee.

A new collaboration was on the table: on-call falconers would safely capture birds on the airport grounds and The Feather rehabilitation center could treat and release the owls in a safe place.

“The airport people were very receptive to the idea,” Wissink said. “We told them that the bow nets cost $500 apiece. They offered to pay for one, the Audubon is paying for another. We’re also going to get a third one through an anonymous donor.”

The volunteers have the training to work with the birds that will be increasingly needed as more snowy owls migrate south for the winter. More owls are moving south because warmer weather is increasing their food supply and, by extension, the number of owls being born.

Wissink said she saw two owls at the airport in the first walk through. She said the open field with signs to perch on make the airport a comfortable spot for the birds, which scan the ground for prey. The ability to trap birds is especially important because they are less likely to be scared off by cars or loud noises because those threats are not common in the tundra they call home.

The collaboration is allowing The Feather to help with researching the snowy owls as well, by working with Project SNOWstorm to take blood samples and put trackers on the birds before releasing them.