A Second Season of Winter Raptor Research in Addison County

Red-tailed Hawk observed during a recent roadside survey in Addison County

As we slowly transition into winter, reports of migrant birds are trickling in throughout the state. Snowy Owls have been sighted in Colchester and Waterbury and researchers from Project SNOWstorm predict a “sizeable push” of immature birds this year. Snows experienced a robust breeding season in the eastern and central Canadian Arctic this summer which may lead to more sightings as winter progresses. These young birds sometimes wind up in trouble and end up at the Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation. This season we have already seen a young female who was in distress and emaciated. Unfortunately, the bird did not survive but samples will be sent to Project SNOWstorm in an effort to better help the species as a whole. Blood work will also be collected from any others that end up in rehab and sent to researchers in the project.

Wildlife keeper, Mav, restrains the female Snowy Owl while Director of Rehab, Grae, performs an eye exam during intake

Rough-legged Hawks are also back in the state and have been spotted throughout Addison County. We are excited to learn more about this species through our collaboration with Neil Paprocki of the Rough-legged Hawk Project. VINS was able to fund three GPS units with the help of generous donations from our followers. This January we will begin the process of trapping and outfitting birds with these units. Their movements will give us insight into the species and their possible interactions with our previously marked Red-tails. We will also deploy five telemetry units on Red-tailed Hawks to create a more robust sample size.

A Rough-legged Hawk in flight taken during an outing in Addison County during last winter’s field season

In preparation for this winter field season, we have begun roadside surveys throughout the county. This data will allow us track the return of birds and help in the timing of trapping field days. So far we have not spotted any Rough-legs, despite eBird reports in the area, but have seen numerous Red-tails. Northern Harriers have been observed in good numbers over both survey days and we hope that trend continues through the winter. This species is a High Priority for conservation and is listed in VT as Species of Special Concern. Harriers are listed as endangered in CT and NH and there is documented decline in PA.

Locations of raptor sightings from preliminary road side surveys

This season is especially exciting with the prospect of an irruptive Snowy Owl year but still uncertain with current weather trends. A recent study at the University of Vermont found that the state’s average annual temperature has warmed by nearly 2°F, and precipitation has increased 21%, since 1900. This trend can impact migration timing and the numbers of birds in the state. These trends will become apparent through our long term monitoring in our state.

For now our two Red-tailed Hawks from last season continue to send in data and we are awaiting a possible return of Middlebury to Vermont from a summer in northern Canada. His current location is unknown as his transmitter is working through a backlog of data after the last connection.

Be sure to follow along with updates from the field

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