Pamela Price, conservation education director for the Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, brought three owls to the NECV High School last week. She, Occhio the Screech Owl, Bart the Barred Owl and Hedwig the Great Horned Owl visited on Wednesday, Feb. 19, sponsored by the FFA.
She began by introducing Occhio. The little owl was an instant favorite looking wise and somewhat like a stuffed toy.
Bart the Barred Owl is her favorite. “He’s got a great disposition. He’s very calm and easy to handle,” and she added, “He’s got beautiful brown eyes.”
Most owls have yellow eyes. Barred owls are the only owls in the eastern United States that have brown eyes.
OCCHIO – The little screech owl.
Barred Owls are the ones usually seen on roadways, having been hit by vehicle. Barred owls have exceptional hearing and are so intent on their prey they fail to see the dangers that might be approaching at a high rate of speed. Bart was injured and after a stint in Raptor Rehab, was unable to fly well enough to hunt. In the wild, Bart’s life span would be 18 – 20 years.
Hedwig, the Great Horned Owl, is the biggest owl with the biggest and sharpest talons. She came to the zoo at a young age while still dressed in white feathers. She imprinted on humans and never developed the instinct to hunt.
She met the Walker crowd with juvenile vocalizations and several attempts to show off her wingspan which is 4 1/2 to five feet. Hedwig didn’t learn to hoot until later in life.
The owls are fed mice that are ordered frozen and thawed before serving.
Price said that a Great Horned Owl’s favorite food is skunk. She also mentioned that owls pant just like dogs.
Dickerson Park Zoo has five owls. The zoo acquired a Barn Owl on Friday, Feb. 21. She’ll spend 30 days in quarantine to make sure she doesn’t have any diseases or parasites.
At the zoo, owls are housed in mews, manmade structures that allow them covering and a way to enjoy the outdoors. Mews are constructed to be as natural as possible. Price says the zoo is at capacity for mews.
HEDWIG – Hedwig is a Great Horned Owl or Hoot Owl. She was brought to the zoo while she still had her white feathers and imprinted on humans because she was so young. She still has her juvenile vocalization and only learned to hoot several years ago when a male Hoot Owl flew into the woods next to her flight cage.
The owls are never taken out more that three times in a seven day period. All birds at the zoo are vaccinated for West Nile virus.
Price has been at the zoo for several years working with owls the whole time. She was in public education for 24 years and was an administrator for three before retiring.
She pointed out the three main characteristics of birds of prey, like owls, excellent eyesight, sharp hooked beak and talons with strong feet. She said all owls are silent flyers, making it easy for them to nab their prey while never being heard.
Small domestic animals sometimes disappear in the night, most possibly abducted for a late night snack by a silent fluff of feathers sporting razor sharp talons and a beak that can shred their prey into bite sized pieces.