At the EcoTarium
Our Barn Owls and Great Horned Owl are located in the bird house, along the outdoor wildlife path. We received our female Great Horned Owl from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts Univerity in 1991. She was emaciated and her right leg was paralyzed. It was suspected that she had nerve damage due to electrocution. She would have been a candidate for rehabilitation and release except for one problem: she is incapable of catching live food. Owls are raptors that depend on their powerful feet to catch their prey, and her right foot was paralyzed.
Our two Barred Owls live along the path from the upper parking lot to the main entrance and Sundial Plaza. Both Barred Owls are females and able to fly. One is missing an eye, and the other has a detached retina, which is why these raptors cannot survive in the wild.
By special appearance: The EcoTarium's Screech Owl is not currently on exhibit, but you may still see him during Public Programs or presentations, such as Animal Encounters.
Owls are stealthy hunters that usually are active at night. They have distinctive disc-shaped faces with large eyes and short, curved beaks. After eating, owls regurgitate pellets of fur, bone, and whatever else they cannot digest. These pellets make it easy for scientists to track what individual owls are eating -- pellets are collected, sterilized and taken apart to identify prey. Owls species are found living on every continent except Antarctica and vary greatly in size by species.
Owls have many adaptations that make them well-suited to being nocturnal hunters. They have serrated edges on their flight feathers that let them fly silently and sneak up on prey. Their facial disc helps funnel sound to their ears, and their skull is asymmetrical, which allows them to locate prey by timing differences. Their feathery ear tufts aren’t for hearing. They use them for display and camouflage. Owls have well developed eyes to see well at night, but their eyes face forward and they must turn their heads to see around them. Luckily, owls can turn their heads nearly all the way around (270 degrees out of 360!) and almost upside-down. This is because they have 14 vertebrae in their long necks. (Humans have 7.)
The Great Horned Owl, named for its large feather tufts that resemble ears or horns, is one of the largest owl species. They have a long lifespan, living about 13 years in the wild and 38 in captivity. Great Horned Owls have been known to hunt by walking along the ground, wading into the water to find frogs or sneaking into chicken coops.
Barn Owls don’t hoot -- they hiss and scream. They eat a diet mainly comprised of rodents and rarely if ever take domestic animals despite their name. They tend to roost and nest in hollow spaces and crevices, like tree stumps or attics. When cornered, Barn Owls have been observed to throw themselves onto their backs and flail their taloned feet. Barn owls, along with Barred Owls, have distinct brown eyes, not the yellow eyes common to other owl species.
The Barred Owl, is a medium-sized owl. It is grey-brown with horizontal white streaks on its chest and vertical streaks on its stomach. These streaks, which look like bars, give them their name. The Barred Owl has a classic owl "hoot" that is often translated by humans as sounding like: "who cooks for you?". Nesting pairs mate for life and, like other owls, often make use of nests left by other birds. Barred Owls have been observed wading for crayfish, which can turn their belly feathers a light pink. Their only natural enemy is the Great Horned Owl. They live up to 10 years, but as long as 25 in captivity. Barred owls are found in moist forests, wooded swamps, and woodlands near waterways throughout the eastern half of the United States. They are sometimes also found in the Northwest.
Screech Owls are small nocturnal hunters named for the screeching alarm call they make when they see a predator or feel threatened. They also trill, a sound also called the bounce song, to keep in touch and they whinny to defend their territory. They have an elaborate courtship ritual: when the male gets close, he bobs his head and body and may wink one eye. If the female likes him, she moves closer and they preen each other. If she doesn’t, the male tries harder. Sometimes a male will mate with two females. If this happens, the second female may evict the first from her nest, lay her own clutch of eggs and raise both clutches.