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Snowy Owls Cause Airport Conflicts

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Photo: Bert de Tilly

Photo: Bert de Tilly

At least two snowy owls were shot and killed by airport employees in New York last week, after owls reportedly struck five airplanes in the New York/New Jersey region. News of the killings brought swift protests from local birdwatchers. The New York agency that manages the airports now says they will instead work with the state's environmental agency to capture and relocate the birds. The large white owls, which can have a wingspan up to 4.5 feet, have been unusually abundant in the northern U.S. this winter. They are protected under federal law, but airports can get permission to kill them if they pose a hazard. The owls also have caused problems at Boston's Logan Airport, where the Audubon Society has been working to trap and relocate the birds.

The owls generally live and breed in the Arctic, but occasionally they will fly south, perhaps in search of food. Unlike some other owls, which are active mostly at night, the snowy owl hunts during the day, making it more likely that it will conflict with air traffic in the vicinity of airports. The owls are expected to head north again in the spring.

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