[CT Birds] Snowy Owl discussion

Kevin Burgio kevin.burgio at gmail.com
Thu Dec 5 20:41:15 EST 2013


In preparing for my Ph.D. qualifying exam, I have been reading a great deal
on the subject of human-caused stress responses in birds, and want to add
some of the things that I have learned to this discussion. I'll be brief.
 I'll also preface this by saying that I do not have any answers /
suggestions about what should be done.  I just thought that some of you,
reading about this subject in interest, would like to know a little about
the research done on this topic.

1. Birds may not change their outward behavior but can be stressed in the
presence of humans, demonstrated by increased heart rate, and etc.
(Weimerskirch et al. 2002).
2. Birds that are used to human presence, as well as their offspring, have
lower stress hormone responses to subsequent human presence (Walker et al.
3. Birds on starvation diets already have elevated levels of stress
hormones in their body, which not only has short-term effects (both
positive and negative), but in the case of young birds, increased levels of
stress hormones, while young, can negatively impact their life-long
development, learning ability, foraging capacity, and life-long fitness
(Walker et al. 2005, Bertram and Hanson 2002).

If anyone is interested in reading the primary literature I cited here, I
will be happy to send the PDFs your way.  I hope you all found this helpful.

Kevin Burgio

On Thu, Dec 5, 2013 at 7:44 PM, Joseph Cala <Joejr14 at aol.com> wrote:

> All-
> Interesting continuing conversation on the Snowy Owl topic.  I was going
> to get into some of what Keith posted in my post the other night, but felt
> it best not to make a novel out of my post.
> The fact is there is really no way to 100% determine the cause of this
> year's irruption.  Obviously there reason for the irruption is a lack of
> food, but the question is why is there a lack of food.  In doing some
> research for my post last night I found numerous sources that stated a
> typical Snowy Owl clutch is a few birds--and during lemming booms Snowy's
> routinely will have clutches of up to SEVEN (AlaskaZoo suggests 16!).  If
> there was a lemming boom this past summer, we could be conservatively
> looking at up to 5x the amount of young Snowy's looking for food.  Based on
> the pictures and reports from various states it surely appears that a very
> large percentage of the irrupted birds are juveniles--this would tend to
> suggest the irruption is in fact due to very successful clutch/hatchling
> results.  I realize that it's frustrating seeing these birds not doing
> well, but keep in mind they are a species of Least Concern and have a
> fairly stable population estimate of 300,000.
> A couple of additional things I'd like to comment on that have been
> brought up.  I would argue that being able to read a bird is not by using
> 'human logic or behavior patterns', but rather animal behavior logic.
>  Animals in the wild simply do not turn their back on what they consider to
> be a threat for prolonged periods of time.  I think it also needs to be
> brought up that these birds nest in the far north tundra and many of these
> birds have never seen humans--they very well may not consider people as a
> threat in the way that they would a wolf, arctic fox, eagle, etc.
> I also think that suggesting that people not look or observe them is on
> the extreme side.  As has been brought up here before (and elsewhere) Snowy
> Owls are a bird that makes 'non-birders' stop and ask questions, and
> genuinely enjoy the view.  I showed several people at work (definitely
> non-birders) the pictures I took from Milford Point and they were astounded
> that such a creature even existed--and said they would love to see one.
>  Exposure and added interest to birding is only going to increase awareness
> and support down the road.
> Two final question as I've seen this now brought up countless times--what
> exactly does everyone consider to be 'too close' to a Snowy Owl?  And why
> the major restriction with getting 'close' to a Snowy Owl but it's
> perfectly acceptable for a group of 20 people to be within 25 feet from a
> Fork-tailed Flycatcher?
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Kevin R. Burgio  @KRBurgio <https://twitter.com/KRBurgio>
Ph.D. Student
NSF Graduate Research Fellow
University of Connecticut
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Dept
kevin.burgio at uconn.edu
(860) 486-3839
Monk Parakeet Research Website <http://www.eeb.uconn.edu/people/burgio>
Facebook Parakeet Research
Curriculum vitae<http://hydrodictyon.eeb.uconn.edu/eebedia/images/b/bb/Burgio_CV2.pdf>

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