A community compromise to save the snowy owl


On November 28, 2017, a staff member at the Wittman Regional Airport shot and killed a snowy owl.  Today, a policy is in place to protect the rare bird that has since seen two owls trapped and removed by trained bird professionals.

Wissink (far right) is joined by city staff, Mayor Cummings and volunteers

Sightings of the snowy owl in the Oshkosh are an increasingly common and exciting occurrence, with sites like Terrell’s Island,  Waukau Creek, and areas around Lake Shore Golf Course serving as destinations for bird watches and eager locals hoping to view the stately and magnificent bird of the arctic.  The Oshkosh community was formally recognized as a Bird City Wisconsin community in 2010, with the vision that the region would become a supportive environment and educated protector of the many birds that live in and visit Wisconsin.

According to the Winnebago Audobon Society, the airport possesses a permit that allows them to trap and relocate or use lethal means to eliminate birds and animals that pose a risk to aircraft.

“A pilot who had just landed his plane was thrilled to see the snowy sitting on a low taxi-way sign. But a few minutes later his co-pilot witnessed the shooting of this beautiful bird,” read a statement from the Winnebago Audobon Society. “We will continue to pursue a discussion on this subject to create awareness, find a better way to handle problem birds and animals, educate the people who have the authority to decide when to use lethal means, encourage partnerships with local organizations such as Winnebago Audubon, wildlife rehabilitators, and others who might be able to help resolve problems with wildlife on the airport.”

Less than a month later, this system is in place and appears to be working thanks to the efforts of Janet Wissink of the Winnebago Audobon Society and a team of trained birding professionals successfully convinced airport officials and Winnebago County representatives.

In early December, an important meeting took place including Airport Director Peter Moll, Winnebago County Supervisor and Chair of Aviation Committee Robert Warnke, Chip Lovell of the USDA Wildlife Services, bird rehabilitator Pat Fisher, multiple licensed falconers willing to donate their time, and Wissink.

We were pleased that our offer to provide licensed falconers, who will volunteer their time to trap and relocate owls and hawks, was welcomed,” said Wissink.

The airport and county agreed to try out the non-lethal proposal.  “Any birds that are trapped for relocation will first be examined by a bird rehabilitator to be sure they are healthy, record data on the bird, and band it,” added Wissink. “The birds will be relocated at least 60 miles east or west of the airport.”

On December 21, the first snowy owl was trapped at Wittman.  By the 24th a second had been captured.

The owls are transferred to the Feather Wildlife Rehab and Education Center in New London where they are examined to ensure health for survival. 

Today, the first of the trapped owls was released back into the wild.  According to Wissink, it was a grand day. “Hopefully he will like the new location and will not be showing up at an airport anytime soon!”

Doug Cooper, the pilot who first called Winnebago Audubon Society about the shooting of a snowy owl at Wittman Regional Airport, had the honor of releasing this snowy owl that was captured at the airport last week.

The challenges faced by snowy owls and the efforts of Wissink and her partners were featured in a National Audobon story earlier this month.

Story photo courtesy of Winnebago Audubon. Banner image by Bert de Tilly (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons





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Justin R. Mitchell

Justin is the founding editor of the Oshkosh Independent.

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