Where's Ramsey? Quirky snowy owl now flying off the grid

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 15, 2014 - 2:01 PM

Always a bird of another feather, the quirky snowy owl that settled in the city of Ramsey has flown beyond his tracking device’s range, possibly to the Arctic.

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Ramsey, one of 22 snowy owls in North America being tracked with small wireless transmitters, has flown through Canada and possibly to the Arctic.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler • Star Tribune file,

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Ramsey has flown the coop.

The snowy owl that defied logic last winter, when he rarely strayed beyond a mile radius after settling in the city of Ramsey, has again befuddled experts by flying north beyond the range where he can be tracked.

Of 22 snowy owls across North America wearing transmitters, none appears to have flown as far away as Ramsey. He was the only snowy owl being tracked by Project SNOWstorm — a nonprofit initiative to better understand and conserve these brilliantly white raptors — to settle in the suburbs. And, as of early July, he was the only one to fly far beyond tracking cell towers in northern Canada.

“A fascinating bird, the consummate homebody that rarely budged,” said Scott Weidensaul, an owl researcher and co-founder of Project SNOWstorm in Pennsylvania.

“There’s a possibility that some of these birds aren’t going to make it,” Weidensaul said. “If I had to bet on any of these birds, I’d bet on Ramsey.”

There apparently are a lot of people rooting for Ramsey, who delighted bird watchers in Anoka County in February and early March as he hovered around the mostly vacant 400-acre COR development area in Ramsey, along Hwy. 10.

Other snowy owls like flat, open, treeless areas that look like Arctic tundra, Weidensaul said. But Ramsey, who just turned a year old, spent hours on roofs of buildings, on light standards and, after dark, on road signs.

Ramsey’s odyssey

Nobody can be certain of Ramsey’s current whereabouts. Other snowy owls wearing transmitters were slow to leave their winter homes. In late April, one named Kewaunee was still in Green Bay, Wis. When another bird, Oswegatchie, finally left his hideaway north of the St. Lawrence River valley, he didn’t go far — 82 miles — before looping back and eventually settling in farmland in eastern Ontario.

But not our Minnesota snowy owl. Ramsey the bird left Ramsey the city on March 12, Weidensaul said. After that he could be seen flying through North Dakota and briefly settling in Ramsey County, N.D. — seriously — just west of Grand Forks.

He was tracked flying across Manitoba’s southwest corner at speeds up to 55 miles per hour. The bird that trackers say was infatuated with a hotel pool while in Minnesota made a brief appearance in Binscarth, Manitoba, which, Weidensaul observes, is noted for “the largest outdoor swimming pool on the Yellowhead Highway.”

Cell coverage in Manitoba is spotty, and Ramsey missed a check-in on April 23. But his transmitter phoned in three days later from Saskatchewan.

Ramsey had traded his suburban past for the ice of Silver Lake, near tiny Tufnell, Saskatchewan (population 10). That was on April 26. Ramsey has not been heard from since.

At that point, he’d flown 337 miles in six days. Farther west of Saskatchewan, there are cell towers in Alberta. But because Ramsey’s signal could no longer be found, Weidensaul is convinced that he flew north, possibly to the Arctic, where he could be experiencing nearly 24 hours of daylight and feeding on ducks.

Looking ahead

Eventually, Weidensaul should know where Ramsey has been. The transmitter within his tiny harness can store more than six years of data.

Frank Nicoletti, the banding director of the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth, fitted Ramsey with a $3,000, 40-gram harness transmitter in December. He thinks the snowy owl whose yellow eyes burn brightly against a pearl complexion is “doing exactly what it should be doing.”

“It got through its first winter, which is often when they die,” Nicoletti said of Ramsey. “It will be fascinating when it comes back this fall and the information is downloaded” from the transmitter.

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