The International Festival of Owls takes place during the first full weekend of March at the International Owl Center in Houston, Minnesota. It celebrates the approximate “hatch-day” in 1997 of Alice, a Great Horned Owl rescued as a fledgling after falling from her nest. She now helps teach visitors to the Houston Nature Center about owls and their behaviors.
Today’s events include live shows featuring Ruby the Great Horned Owl and Uhu the Eurasian Eagle Owl. A discussion of the complexities of renesting young owls will include appearances by Barred Owls, red and gray Eastern Screech-Owls and a Barn Owl. There is also a special live owl program just for children.
Tonight three buses, each with an expert owl caller onboard, will embark on an Owl Prowl. Calling stresses the owls: they respond out of alarm that there is an intruder nearby. To minimize ill effects, each group must travel to a different remote location where the birds are unlikely to be bothered again during the year. Of course, there is no guarantee that passengers will hear wild owls, in which case they’ve just endured a bus ride to listen to a grown person make strange noises.
Two of the buses are family-friendly; the other is reserved for adults. (Perhaps there will be potty talk about mating rituals that the kids shouldn’t hear?) Those who don’t want to make the trip can stay behind and look at the live owls on display, peruse the gift shop, cast votes in the photography contest, visit owl merchandise vendors and eat owl-themed foods.
Saturday’s Kid’s Hooting Contest is no joke. The International Owl Center lists the best species to mimic and links to audio files via Owlpages.com to help competitors perfect their hoots. Also recommended is Owling.com, which accompanies accompanying audio with streaming video, photo galleries and field notes.
Did you know that owls vomit up the parts of their prey—bones, feathers, fur—that they can’t digest?This daily activity causes the resulting “pellets” to accumulate on the ground below their nests, where they are retrieved by festival staff for the Owl Pellet Dissection sessions, scheduled on Saturday and Sunday.
Pellets cost $5.00 each; parents can economize by assigning more than one child per pellet. Under no circumstance is anyone allowed to BYOP (Bring Your Own Pellet). Management is not responsible for emotional scarring that may occur to children who connect the dots between beloved characters Ratatouille and Mickey Mouse and the rodent bones they have just fished out of a nugget of owl barf.
Have a happy International Festival of Owls!