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From the editor

Snowies, vultures, and seabirds

BirdWatching Editor Chuck Hagner, photo by Lila Aryan Photography.

BirdWatching Editor Chuck Hagner, photo by Lila Aryan Photography.

How well do you know the magnificent bird on our cover, Snowy Owl?

According to best-selling author and Project SNOWstorm co-founder Scott Weidensaul, assumptions about almost every aspect of the owl’s life — its breeding and wintering ecology, the driving forces behind its dramatic irruptions, how to distinguish birds of different ages and sexes, even how many owls there are — have shifted over the past decade or so. Weidensaul explains how much in his article “Snowy Enigma,” on page 18. It’s an exclusive excerpt from his much-anticipated new book, Peterson Reference Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean, due out in October.

And just how familiar are you with the familiar Turkey Vulture? For years now, ornithologist and retired radiologist C. Stuart Houston has been applying wing-tags and the occasional satellite transmitter to vultures living in Saskatchewan and adjacent Alberta, at the northern limits of the species’ range. As you can read in his fascinating article (“Northern Novelty,” page 32), not only are his Canadian birds breeding farther north than any other North American vultures, and not only are they migrating farther south than most, but they’re also choosing to lay their eggs in locations that will change forever the way you look at old farm houses.

And what about the world’s petrels, shearwaters, albatrosses, and other seabirds? If you’re like me, you probably know less about them than Snowy Owls and Turkey Vultures but relish the thought that they’re out there, waddling on distant beaches, skimming waves a boatride away, plunge diving like arrows just over the horizon. We can learn more about them tomorrow, I’ve always told myself.

But can we? In “Birding Briefs,” we report something truly shocking — that the seabird populations of today are only a fraction of what they were decades ago. Birds disappearing before we can get to know them, it’s one of the worst things I can imagine.

Chuck Hagner, editor
[email protected]

See the contents of our October 2015 issue.