ORI’s Snowy Owl Research Project: 30 years and counting


A snowy owl in flight. The bird is looking at the camera. Both wings are outstretched in front of it. It has a pure white face and underwing, but the outer wings, back, and top of the head are covered with black spots. Photo by Kurt Lindsay.

The Owl Research Institute (ORI) launched the Snowy Owl Breeding Ecology and Lemming Population Study in 1992. Every year since then ORI researchers have spent the summer field season in a hundred square mile area in and around Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow), Alaska. Utqiagvik is more than 300 miles above the Arctic Circle (about 2, 140 miles from ORI’s home base in Charlo, Montana) and is the northern-most point in the U.S. Most importantly: it’s the only place in the U.S. where Snowy Owls regularly breed.


The Snowy Owl Research Project is the longest running study of its kind in North America. Our study represents the definitive record of Snowy Owl breeding population trends for this region.

Denver Holt, a white man with greying hair, sits on the ground with 6 snowy owl chicks, 2 in his lap. He is preparing to band them. The tundra is covered with brownish plants and grasses.

Each year, founder and ORI Director Denver Holt travels to Alaska, where he locates and monitors Snowy Owl nests, documenting the chicks growth and development, behavior, survival rates, and seasonal trends.