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Snowy owl migration gives scientists chance to study them

Wikimedia Commons

Snowy owls have descended on the Great Lakes region and northeastern U.S. in huge numbers in recent weeks, to the delight of birdwatchers.

But this winter's mass migration of the owls from their Arctic breeding grounds is serious business for researchers. They're trapping and fitting some of the visitors with tiny solar-powered transmitters to track them around the globe and study the long-misunderstood species whose numbers likely are far fewer than previously thought.

Researchers once believed there were about 300,000 snowy owls worldwide. Now they say it's closer to 30,000, because of new information about where they nest and winter.

That doesn't necessarily mean that snowy owls are in decline. But researchers want to know for sure. They worry the birds' long-term survival could be affected by global warming.