Bellingham Library Hosts “Eyes On Owls” Program
Aug 30, 2018 06:00AM ● Published by Marjorie Turner Hollman
Lots of programs have been popular, but the “Eyes on Owls” program had the adults as excited as the children waiting to get into the event. Marcia and Mark Wilson had brought five live owls and one raptor to the library on August 14, and the community room was packed.
Marcia and Mark, licensed to keep wild birds, are clearly experienced presenters. They explained to children eager to pet the birds that the terms of their permit require them to be the only ones who handle the birds. This was therefore not an owl-petting opportunity but, rather, a look but do not touch arrangement.
The mats on the floor at the front of the room created a boundary between the birds and the audience. Later in the program, we learned of another purpose for the mats besides creating a protective buffer for the birds.
After sharing with the group a large picture story book about owls, which helped quiet everyone down, the couple introduced one owl at a time to the crowd. The screech owl was the smallest owl they shared with us and, according to Marcia, the most common in Bellingham. Mark explained, “The best time to see owls is the daytime, and the best time to hear them is nighttime."
Throughout the presentation, Marcia offered impressive owl calls and invited children from the audience to come forward to attempt to perform an owl call themselves. While the screech owl was out of its box, they brought out an American kestrel to help the audience compare the differences between owls and raptors. Children quickly discerned the difference in head shape of the two species and soon learned that most owls hunt at night, while raptors hunt in the daytime.
“Kestrels also have a neat trick,” Mark explained. “Their eyes are able to see ultraviolet light. Mouse pee emits ultraviolet light, which makes it easier for kestrels to follow a mouse’s trail.”
Another fact that the couple pointed out was the difference between nocturnal and diurnal hunters—nighttime and daytime hunters, respectively.
When the snowy owl, a winter migratory visitor to New England, was brought out, Marcia noted that, unlike most owls, the snowy owl hunts during the day as well as at night. When they invited questions from the audience, a bright boy asked, “Then when does the snowy owl sleep?” The answer? “Mostly they don’t!” answered Mark.
Throughout the program, Marcia regularly announced, “We have whitewash over here.” Mark dutifully grabbed some paper towels and scooped up the bird poop, which made this part of animal care matter-of-fact while also assuring that the children would stay off the mats!
We learned that the barn owl is not native to New England, so their barn owl gets a special heated enclosure to keep his feet warm.
“He has no feathers on his legs like the other owls,” Marcia explained. “We have to keep him warm though the winter.” The snowy owl, on the other hand, was feeling hot in the community room, clearly holding his mouth open and panting to help cool himself off.