Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Owl Prowls!

Owls have captured human imagination for thousands of years. They are often depicted in myth and legend, playing both positive and negative roles depending on the originating culture. Athena, the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom, is often described with an owl in attendance; the Greeks considered owls (particularly the Little Owl, who gains its latin name, Athene noctua, from the goddess) to be sacred. But while owls have been considered symbols of wisdom and intelligence in some areas, they have also been considered stupid, foolish, or symbols of madness. In many cultures, owls are traditionally considered an ill omen, or even a sign of impending death.

How can one creature inspire so many-- and such paradoxical-- interpretations? Perhaps it is due to their nocturnal nature, their excellent camouflage, their haunting calls. Maybe it is because of their silent flight, their fixed wide-eyed stare, or their measured movements. All of these characteristics, and likely many more, may contribute to the feelings of fascination and curiousity which owls inspire.

Learning about these fascinating creatures is easier than you may think! There are over two hundred species of owls living world-wide, with an incredible variety of shapes, sizes, and features. The smallest owl on the planet, the Elf Owl is not much larger than a house sparrow-- but the largest, the Eurasian Eagle-owl can weigh up to 10 lbs and is able to prey on young deer and sheep!

Ontario has eleven native owl species, ranging in size from the tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl to the powerful Snowy Owl. The Mountsberg Raptor Centre currently provides a home for representatives of six of our native species-- including the Barn Owl, one of Ontario's Species at Risk.

Late winter is one of the best times of the year to seek out owls in the wild, and it's also the best time of year to take part in an Owl Prowl! The Mountsberg Raptor Centre is proud to host our upcoming Owl Prowl programs at the park. These programs are a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Ontario's native owl species-- including habitats, calls, and behaviour-- as well as meet some of our resident owls up close and 'nose-to-beak'! The adult program takes place on Friday, January 29th, while family night is Saturday, January 30th. Please call the park for program details and registration. It'll be a 'hoot'!

(Photos © 2010 B. R. Murphy - used with permission)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Years Updates and Noah's Story

Mountsberg Conservation Area rang in the new year with our New Year's Hoopla event-- and two of the Raptor Centre's resident owls were in attendance! Chomper the great-horned owl met with families out in the barn for an evening chat, while Teddy, one of our barred owls, took part in family photos.

Seventeen different families chose to have a New Years photo taken with Teddy, and the Willis family was kind enough to allow us to share theirs in our blog! We hope that our guests had as much fun attending the Hoopla as we had hosting it, and that everyone enjoyed the opportunity to see two of Ontario's native owl species up close while we rang in 2010.

In other raptor holiday wrap-up news, we are very pleased to announce that Otus, one of Mountsberg's eastern screech-owls, has fully recovered from the illness mentioned in our last update. We are very grateful to the staff of the Avian/Exotics clinic for the excellent care he received at the Ontario Veterinary College. Otus, for his part, was feeling well enough to get into the holiday spirit-- in fact, he was reluctant to get out! Of the tree, that is:

We would also like to share an inspirational story with our readers, and at the same time give our heartfelt thanks to a very dedicated young man. Raptor Centre Resource Interpreter Lara Butt writes:

"In July of 2009, our Raptor Centre was booked to visit four Wellington County Libraries over a three day period. There the families were able to see four different native raptor species up close and learn loads of interesting facts from our resident birds of prey. During our visit to Erin Library, a young, budding raptor enthusiast was 'hatched'!

As caretakers and educators of our 31 non-releasable birds, we encourage people to help in this process through such ways as our 'Adopt-a-Raptor' program or volunteering. Several of our brochures, pamphlets, and Species at Risk posters were passed on to the families after the session and one recipient was an 8-year-old fan, Noah! Captivated by our beautiful birds, Noah studied our Adopt guide and took it upon himself to raid his piggy bank for coins and during a family get together managed to collect almost $25 towards the 10 birds listed in the guide.

We were contacted by his family to arrange a time for Noah to present us with his fantastic donation and visit our birds up close and personal! As a token of our appreciation, Noah was given the opportunity to hold one of our screech owls, Echo, perched on his hand.

Following this, Noah continued to email us with his attempts to organize a fundraiser at his school. He waited anxiously for a response from the school council but unfortunately this was not an option at that time. Noah, only motivated further to find another opportunity to raise funds, asked his Mother if he could celebrate his 9th birthday party at Mountsberg. Instead of his invited guests bringing gifts, Noah suggested a donation towards our 'Adopt-a-Raptor' program. With four friends attending he received $100.00! Unselfishly, he also collected his own money to create small amounts for the 21 of our resident raptors. In total Noah has generously donated to 28 individual birds. His collective sum came to $149.75!! With this amazing donation, Noah has enabled us to do such things as purchase food and provide new building and housing material for several birds.

The Raptor Centre staff are very grateful for the tremendously thoughtful ideas and initiatives that such a young, keen friend like Noah has contributed! Thank you so much, Noah, for your efforts and passion for wildlife, and keep up the great work!"

Individuals like Noah make it possible to maintain and improve on the excellent care and housing we provide for the Raptor Centre's non-releasable birds of prey. His story is an inspiration to all of us here at Mountsberg, and we hope that all who read it will be encouraged towards an interest in Ontario's native raptors.

See you on the trails!