by Caitlin Reilly

A few years ago, students were met with a curious sight on the Great Lawn upon their return from winter break.  A gathering of people in a half circle sat near the edge of Lower St. Regis. With some of his students, Mark Manske, a master falconer, raptor bander, wildlife rehabilitator, and a licensed nuisance-wildlife control agent, released four snowy owls along the bank. Now, why were these beautiful birds released on campus? 

Snowy owls, as well as white-tailed deer, Canadian geese, and other raptors are frequent residents of airfields. These animals are a cause for major concern surrounding airport operations. Wildlife-aircraft collisions are a serious safety risk to aircraft facilities. Back in 2009, the “Miracle on the Hudson” occurred when a flock of geese was hit by a plane, forcing it into an emergency landing onto the Hudson River. According to an ongoing report on wildlife strikes, 5,724 of reported strikes were from raptors, resulting in $56 million in reported economic losses. Because raptors in particular prefer wide-open spaces, to them the airfield is the perfect place to nest.

Nowadays, the Federal Aviation Administration has ordered the employees of airports to do all they can to remove birds from the airfields. The most favored management option has been to shoot them. However, the employees of the Ogdensburg International Airport  took a different approach. They reached out to the Department of Environmental Conservation who then contacted Mark Manske to capture and relocate the nuisance snowy owls.

Mark Manske and some of his students work under the banner of Project SNOWstorm, an initiative to catch snowy owls, collect data, and send them on their way. The program aims to learn more about the irruptions of snowy owls as they migrate from the northern Arctic tundra southward in irregular migratory patterns. Lately, the owls are traveling farther south due to low prey numbers. This made Mark and his students the perfect candidates to help the airport. Mark and his students set traps along the airfield over the period of a month and captured four snowy owls to relocate. Two more snowy owls relocated on their own. Manske, as his students call him, describes snowy owls as “couch potatoes”, since typically they won’t move unless they’re hungry.

Manske, the owner and founder of Adirondack Raptor Inc. received heat from some of the local residents claiming this wasn’t the first time snowy owls made their nests around the airport. Some Residents argued that they have been there for years and the relocation was uncalled for. Though most residents weren’t aware that the airport was actually doing the owls a tremendous favor by calling in Manske for the job. Most airports wouldn’t have thought twice before shooting these incredible birds to just be rid of the problem, while exercising no regard for the wildlife. 

Thanks to Manske’s involvement with the live-capture and relocation of the four snowy owls at Ogdensburg International Airport, these birds were banded and their data recorded to contribute to Project SNOWstorm. Throughout the school year, Manske gives a presentation of his work with Project SNOWstorm at the Paul Smith’s Wildlife Society meetings. Manske’s next presentation is on October 23rd in Freer 221, from 1:25 until 2:20. 


For further reading:

Managing Raptor-Aircraft Collisions on a Grand Scale: Summary of a Wildlife Services Raptor Relocation Program

Translocation as a Management Alternative at Airports

Project SNOWstorm