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For snowy owls, wintering on the prairie might be normal

Snowy owl in flight

Some snowy owls leave the Arctic to fly south for the winter. That may be a normal part of their migration pattern, a new study finds. 

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White, fierce and fluffy, snowy owls are icons of Arctic life. But some of these owls are not cool with polar winters.

Every year, part of the population flies south to North American prairies. Ornithologists thought those birds fled the Arctic in desperation, haggard and hungry. But the prairie owls are doing just fine, researchers report August 31 in The Auk: Ornithological Advances.

Over 18 winters, wild snowy owls caught and banded in Saskatchewan, Canada — one of the species’ southerly destinations­­ — were 73 percent heavier than emaciated owls in rescue shelters. Females were heavier and had more fat than males, and adults were in better condition than youngsters. But regardless of age or sex, most snowy owls that made the journey south were in relatively good health.

That means southern winters may not be such a desperate move after all. Prairies are probably just a normal wintering ground for some of the Arctic snowy owl population, the researchers say. Snowbirds, indeed. 

Biomedicine,, Animals

Mosquito moms can pass Zika to offspring

By Susan Milius 5:00pm, August 29, 2016
In the lab, Zika virus can pass from a female mosquito to her eggs, suggesting how infections can flare up again after adult insects dwindle.
Genetics,, Animals

Genes help snub-nosed monkeys live the high life

By Tina Hesman Saey 12:30pm, August 25, 2016
Snub nosed monkeys have certain genetic variants that help them breathe easy in low oxygen.
Animals,, Biophysics

Hoverflies (probably) can’t sense gravity

By Helen Thompson 3:04pm, August 18, 2016
Acrobatic insects called hoverflies may simply use visual and airflow cues and not gravity to orient their bodies midair.
Animals,, Conservation,, Agriculture

Evidence piles up for popular pesticides' link to pollinator problems

By Helen Thompson 5:32pm, August 17, 2016
Neonicotinoid pesticides linked to population declines in California butterflies and wild bee extinctions in Great Britain.
Animals,, Ecology

Female fish have a fail-safe for surprise sperm attacks

By Helen Thompson 1:30pm, August 16, 2016
A Mediterranean fish provides evidence that, even after laying their eggs, females can still influence who fertilizes them.

This year’s Perseid meteor shower will be especially flashy

By Christopher Crockett 11:30am, August 11, 2016
This year’s Perseid meteor shower could produce up to 200 meteors per hour as Earth plows through the debris trail of comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle.
Animals,, Genetics,, Evolution

Colugo genome reveals gliders as primate cousins

By Helen Thompson 7:00am, August 11, 2016
New genetic analysis suggests gliding mammals called colugos are actually sisters to modern primates.
Genetics,, Neuroscience

Scientists get a glimpse of chemical tagging in live brains

By Tina Hesman Saey 2:00pm, August 10, 2016
For the first time scientists can see where molecular tags known as epigenetic marks are placed in the brain.
Neuroscience,, Health

Red blood cells sense low oxygen in the brain

By Laura Sanders 12:00pm, August 4, 2016
Red blood cells sense low oxygen and speed to the scene, a new study suggests.
Chemistry,, Technology,, Science & Society

X-rays reveal portrait hiding beneath Degas masterpiece

By Helen Thompson 9:00am, August 4, 2016
X-ray technique reveals an additional painting hiding behind Edgar Degas’ "Portrait of a Woman."
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