It was the early 90’s, Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you” was crushing Billboard records and Denver Holt was just emerging in the world of owl research. The nonprofit he founded was gaining traction; several research projects were underway; and his dream for a career in owl research was taking shape.
He relished the field-work and the Montana species he was immersed in, but something was missing. And he knew just what it was: Snowy Owls.
It was a passion ignited in his home state of Massachusetts while working alongside friend and Snowy Owl pioneer –Norman Smith. Assisting Norman at the Boston airport, Holt learned the ropes of Snowy Owl trapping, banding, relocation, and more. He was inspired by Norman, and how his work was expanding our understanding of Snowy Owls, especially during their migration.
Yet, so much about Snowy Owls was still unknown, especially in regards to their breeding biology – at least in the scope of western science. The Inupiaq people knew a great deal. Holt knew that he could only find answers to his questions by spending time where their lives begin, on their Arctic breeding grounds.
With enough money for a plane ticket and a duffel bag of supplies in tow, he headed to Barrow, AK (now called Utqiagvik). Long-time friend and researcher Craig George helped him out with local connections, offered him a place to stay and pointed him in the direction of owls. In May of 1992, the “Snowy Owl and Lemming Breeding and Ecology Study” was officially underway.
Now in its 28th year, it is the longest-running breeding study of Snowy Owls in North America – a project that continually expands our understanding of Snowy Owls and influences conservation efforts worldwide.