As snowy owl experts from around the world gathered in Boston this week for a conference on the arctic species, one of the birds was making its own trip to Logan Airport.
Conservationists picked up a snowy owl Tuesday morning at the travel hub, a common winter destination for the raptors who see the low, flat land as good hunting ground that is reminiscent of their tundra homes.
A day later, officials with Mass Audubon took the young female owl up to Salisbury Beach, affixed it with a tracking device, and set it free. Participants at the conference got to come along and watch.
“It’s pretty exciting to say they were able to see that bird, and be able to track it from anywhere in the world,” said Norman Smith, Director of Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum in Milton.
Mass Audubon is hosting the snowy owl conference, which runs from Sunday until Thursday and is an opportunity for people from areas visited by snowy owls to trade information about the habits of the creatures and how to protect them.
The owl released this week was named dubbed Chickatawbut, after Blue Hills Reservation’s Chickatawbut Hill, the location of the conference that drew visitors from as far away as Russia.
Airports are a particular area of concern for snowy owls. Though as birds of prey they can help keep away other troublesome species, the owls are also imperiled by planes — and can pose a danger to humans if they are sucked into engines.
Logan Airport has the largest known concentration of snowy owls in the northeast, according to Mass Audubon. The owls live for most of the year in the arctic circle, but they come farther south during the colder months. A focus of snowy owl researchers is to better understand the birds’ travels.
Typically, somewhere around 10 owls show up at Logan every year, Smith said. This year, they’ve been a little bit more common, with about 15. Logan saw 120 owls three winters ago — an event described as the “historic snowy owl irruption.”
The tracking, which now follows about 25 birds, has helped provide some significant new information about the way the owls live, including the revelation that the birds return north after traveling to more temperate climes.
Smith said one owl covered as many as 7,000 miles in the space of 9 months.
“For the first time, we’ve proved that some of these birds make it back to the Arctic. It’s amazing how far they fly,” he said.