Obsessed with owls

owl salt-and-pepper shakersThey’ve been taking up long-term residence in my subconscious and my Facebook feed for the past couple of months; I’ve been holding the door partway closed because that’s my knee-jerk response to popular things. But once I decide there’s a good reason for the popularity — in this case, gorgeousness blending with oddness and a hint of mystery — I tend to succumb. I bought these owl-shaped salt-and-pepper shakers. I started following¬†The Owl Pages on Facebook, where at least a couple of striking new owl photos get delivered to my eyes each day. (The Owl Pages website breaks down owls by subspecies.) Then the zoo’s education department and volunteer corps, in its continuing “animal per month” interpretation focus, declared January to be “for the birds.” Technically, owls are raptors, with their talons and their sharp hooked beaks, but they’re frequent players in the zoo’s bird show, and their fact sheets are in the information booth we volunteers are staffing at the Tropics trailhead this month. (The Tropics aviary is the best place to see birds at the zoo this time of year.) Beyond the bird show, the place to see an owl at the zoo is in the Minnesota Trail’s porcupine exhibit.

snowy owl wing

snowy owlMy fellow Thursday volunteer Joel Hillyer took these three photos and graciously gave me permission to share them. ¬†This snowy owl spent a few weeks in the porcupine exhibit in our Minnesota Trail before rejoining the bird show. (From a recent bird show, I learned that snowy owls are the largest owl by weight in Minnesota at just over 3 pounds. The state’s largest owl by surface area is the great gray owl, who’s about 2 feet long.)

great horned owl on Minnesota TrailOur usual on-exhibit resident is a great horned owl — also the type of owl I periodically hear hooting in my yard in winter, their mating season. Found throughout North America, everywhere from dense forests to city parks, they’re the largest North American owl with ear tufts and eat a variety of rodents and other animals — even skunks!

owl artifacts, bench talkCementing my obsession was the discovery of an owl-themed “bench talk” among the other Minnesota Trail boxes. Owls have feathers all the way down to their talons, as you can see here. If our eyes were as proportionately large in our face as an owl’s, we’d have eyes the size of oranges. Owls can’t shift their eyes from side to side, but they can swivel their heads at least two-thirds of the way around to see what’s behind them. And female owls are quite a bit bigger than male owls. These are just a few of the owl facts I’ve filed in my brain so far.

owl sounds on Minnesota TrailEven if you can’t see the great horned owl on the Minnesota Trail, you can hear the different calls made by different species using this handy trailside display. Besides the whoo-ing of my occasional “yard owl,” I still have to memorize more of their calls — just one more detail I plan to absorb about this species as my fascination continues to unfold.