At the March International Festival of Owls, which is held annually in Minnesota, Massachusetts own Norman Smith, along with two other awardees, was presented with the Champion of Owls for his work protecting Snowy Owls. The International Owl Festival is a fundraiser for the International Owl Center.
Champion of Owls Award
Norman Smith, Massachusetts, USA
Snowy Owls have been a part of Norman Smith’s life for over 40 years. They are something he has shared with his own children from a very young age and now his grandchildren.
Smith is best known for his work trapping and relocating Snowy Owls from Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts (since birds and airplanes don’t go well together). To date he has relocated more than 850 owls, analyzed more than 5,000 pellets, and was the first researcher to attach a satellite transmitter to a Snowy Owl captured on the wintering grounds and then track it back to the breeding grounds in the arctic. At some airports snowy owls were being shot for the safety of the planes so in 2013 Smith and Jeff Turner, a wildlife biologist for the USDA, wrote and implemented protocols for trapping instead of shooting them that were adopted by the U.S Department of Agriculture at airports across the USA and Canada.
His work with owls started more than 50 years ago with banding and rehabilitation. Thirty-five years ago, he discovered that he could foster young owls into wild nests instead of hand rearing them with a higher rate of survival and since then has put over 1,000 orphaned young owls into foster nests. Through banding rehabilitated owls, he found that some one-eyed owls could survive in the wild, with one living 10 years after it was released. To date he has rehabilitated more than 2,000 owls.
As natural educator and passionate speaker, Smith has served as a keynote speaker at prominent birding events around the USA. He recently retired as the Director of Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum and the Norman Smith Environmental Education Center where millions of people were educated during his tenure.
Smith is also a collaborator. He was a founding member of the International Snowy Owl Working Group and hosted their first meeting in the USA in 2017. As a result of this group’s work at that meeting, the Snowy Owl was reclassified from Least Concern to Vulnerable. In the winter of 2013-14 he was also one of the co-founders of Project SNOWstorm, a network of researchers tracking Snowy Owls with satellite transmitters. He is a co-author of the authoritative Birds of North America account on Snowy Owls and also helped raise funds to purchase a snowmobile for a Snowy Owl researcher in Russia.
The media helped Smith educate even more people by promoting his work. He has been featured on the front page of the New York Times, NOVA, CBS News and World Report, Ranger Rick, National Geographic for Kids, Cornell’s Living Bird, and hundreds of other news articles.
His mission is to use the information gathered from his research to stimulate a passion in everyone he meets to help us better understand, appreciate and care for this world in which we live.