Homesick Owls Confuse Airports with the Arctic

ENVIRONMENT

Despite their renowned wisdom, snowy owls migrating south are mistaking airport runways for safe habitat, putting themselves, and air travelers, at risk. (National Geographic News)

Use our resources to better understand animal migration patterns.

Snowy owls, like this one in rural Quebec, Canada, are migrating south in unusually large numbers. Some experts blame a shortage of lemmings, which this beauty is targeting in the Canadian tundra. Photograph courtesy the government of Quebec

Snowy owls, like this one in rural Quebec, Canada, are migrating south in unusually large numbers. Some experts blame a shortage of lemmings, which this beauty is targeting in the Canadian tundra.
Photograph courtesy the government of Quebec

Discussion Ideas

  • The Nat Geo News article calls the influx of snowy owls to the U.S. Northeast and Great Lakes region an “irruption.” What is the difference between an irruption and a migration?
    • An irruption is an unusual, rapid increase in a species’ population in an area. A migration is a regular pattern of movement among a group of animals, usually on a seasonal basis.
  • The Nat Geo News article says snowy owls are mistaking airports for the Arctic tundra? Why?
    • Just like the tundra, airports are huge, flat, open spaces often covered with snow in the winter.
  • The Nat Geo News article says snowy owls at airports can be a threat to people. How?
    • The article describes wildlife (usually bird) “strikes, the term used when birds and planes collide or when birds are sucked into plane engines.” Bird strikes can disable engines or even planes, and cause “anywhere from $300 million to $700 million a year in damage to civilian and military aircraft.”

Thanks to one of our favorite Nat Geo veterans, Karen, for the heads-up on this great current-event connection!

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