BirdLife: The Magazine June 2017 - Page 10

ONE TO WATCH Now you see me... Spilling out of the pages of a field guide, the Snowy Owl is unmistakable; a bulky, bril- liantly white bird of prey, staring you down with its piercing golden eyes. But if you were a lemming trying to survive another night on the unforgiving Arctic tundra, you likely wouldn’t see sight nor sound of this ghost-like hunter until it was too late. The Snowy Owl is a widespread Arctic predator, haunting open areas across both North America and Eurasia. A highly nomadic species, it shifts from area to area as food availability dictates. But this transient nature poses a challenge for conservationists attempting to pin down the species’ threat status. We know that the species is currently under- going high rates of population decline, particularly in North America, where vehicle collisions, entanglement in fishing equipment and illegal hunting have all conspired to thin numbers. But is the worldwide Snowy Owl population robust enough to survive these threats in the short term? We’ve long thought so, but new methodologies used to estimate the global population have returned far lower numbers than we’ve previ- ously been working with – in some cases as low as 14,000 pairs. Furthermore, recent rates of decline may well prove to be enough to warrant BirdLife uplisting the species from Least Concern to globally Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Follow the fate of the Snowy Owl and many other at-risk species on BirdLife International’s Globally Threat- ened Bird Forums, a hotpot of ideas and data where some of the world’s leading orni- thologists are currently debating this year’s proposed Red List status changes. SNOWY OWL Bubo scandiacus Photo by FOTOREQUEST/SHUTTERSTOCK