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Human interference and the Snowbasin owls

Austin Earley, a senior who is graduating with a degree in zoology, was hoping to enhance his resume by participating in undergraduate research. In the process, he was able to learn about the ecology of the Flammulated owl and how human interference has affected the owls that inhabit the Snowbasin area.

The goal of the study was to see how recent trails along Snowbasin impacted the already established breeding grounds of the Flammulated owl. The Flammulated owl is a small owl, around six inches long, that lives primarily in the western United States. Earley, along with his research group, studied a small sample of the owls. They discovered that owls closer to the trails had a lower weight than owls that were farther away from the trails, indicating higher levels of stress. Earley says the study sample was too small to “statistically support anything drastic,” but the findings did indicate a correlation between Flammulated owls and proximity to humans.

Earley was not only able to learn more about the habitat and life of a Flammulated owl, but also has had a unique experience, including stories about the nature that he encountered, one of which dealing with the nest boxes he had to inspect to ensure they were safe and adequate for the owls to inhabit.

“I opened up one of the nest boxes,” Earley said. “I was attacked by a flying squirrel. That was one of the more surprising things to me.”

Although Earley says that the hardest part of the research was the statistical analysis, he enjoyed the experience overall.

“The mosquitoes kind of sucked,” Earley said. “But they’re part of nature, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The owls were absolutely adorable.”

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