This past fall, I contacted Eileen Wicker of the local animal rescue group, Raptor Rehabilitation of KY, and asked her if I could come out, take a tour and talk to her about owls.
I love birds and the plan was to write a Halloween story about owls, in keeping with the stereotype of the owl as “spooky.”
Eileen was very gracious so on a sunny afternoon, I went to see her, visit with the owls and see them up close and personal.
Then, after speaking with Eileen and meeting the owls, I just couldn’t do it. I felt a little guilty, portraying these beautiful birds as scary, especially when one of the ones I saw weighed only 3.3 ounces.
So, I wrote nothing, not being able to figure out how to frame the story.
Then, Thanksgiving rolled around and, well, we all know what type of bird is the star this time of year (much to the chagrin of the bird, I am sure).
After that, Christmas. There is no place for owls at Christmas. The star birds of that season are the four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and the partridge residing in the pear tree.
The New Year? How many times has an owl ever played a part in someone’s resolution? My guess would be not many.
So, here we are In February, the month of love. It occurred to me that maybe this was the month to finally write about my experience at Raptor Rehab, sort of a Valentine to the Owl family.
Back in 1981, when I saw” Clash of the Titans” at the old Alpha 5 Movie Theatre, the mechanical owl, Bubo, blew my young mind. Bubo was not only adorable but also extremely helpful on all of the quests. I fell in love. To this day, I sometimes irritate those closest to me with my impression of Bubo testing out his wings after a fall. (Yes, it is just as annoying and geeky as you imagine. It is what it is.) Don’t even get me started on the Harry Potter books and movies with the coolest way to deliver mail ever, Owl Post.
So, obviously, visiting Raptor Rehabilitation was an exciting thing for me.
On my visit, I saw:
3 Screech Owls
3 Great Horned Owls
2 Barred Owls
1 Sawwet Owl
2 Barn Owls
1 Burrowing Owl
All are native to Kentucky, except the Burrowing Owl. Also, all of the owls at Raptor Rehabilitation are permanent residents because they have been injured or impacted by man somehow.
I asked Eileen if all owls hoot. The answer surprised me: no. The Barred Owl and the Great Horned Owl both hoot and the Barred Owl makes the more well-known “who who” sound. These are the only hooting types of owls found in Kentucky.
As I toured Raptor Rehab, I was struck by the sizes of some of the owls. The Sawwet Owl was tiny, weighing in at a mere 3.3 ounces. When she flew by me in her hutch, she was so delicate it felt like a parakeet had flown by me. I knew the Great Horned Owl was the largest owl but I didn’t realize just how big until I saw one up close. I was quite surprised at the size of their talons, which I am sure come in handy in hunting and carrying away their prey. I also had no idea that the Great Horned Owl is the fiercest and most aggressive owl in North America, as my best frame of reference was sweet, gentle Owl from Winnie the Pooh. Who would have thought that if he had been so inclined, sweet Owl could have easily flown off with Piglet in his talons, as a Great Horned Owl can carry three times his own weight? Oh, bother.
I also asked Eileen about the myth of the intelligence and wisdom of owls. “Not true,” she said.
She explained that owls have eyes that face forward, unlike other birds, whose eyes are on the sides of their head. Owls ‘eyes aren’t round but barrel shaped and their eyes take up 50% of their skulls. The forward facing eyes give them a more human look, as if they are looking right at you. Humans perceive the stare of the owl as that of a perceptive and knowing creature. So, regardless of how persuasive the Harry Potter books are, owls just aren’t that bright. I asked Eileen, “So, if owls aren’t that bright, which raptor would I want on my side for Team Trivia at a local bar?”
She laughed a bit and after some thought replied, “The turkey vulture.”
Good to know.
I very much enjoyed touring Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky. This non-profit, all volunteer group rehabilitates and cares for all injured raptors in the area. They also present programs in the community to educate and raise awareness of the role of raptors in nature. It was obvious everyone there really cared about the birds and the birds, though wild animals, all seemed to love the volunteers.
So, I hope the Owl family, and to some extent, Rehabilitation of Kentucky, will accept this somewhat awkward Valentine. Be Mine, and I promise to never show you my Bubo impression. (Well, maybe.)
Photos courtesy of Cynthia Bard Mayes