Meet the birds- Scooby the Great Horned Owl
You undoubtedly remember meeting a great horned owl at some point if you have ever been to a Flight of the Raptor program. For many of you, Wiz was the first great horned owl you probably remember seeing at one of Ray's programs. There was then "Hootie," for a brief time, and finally Scooby!
I met Scooby when he was about 6 weeks old. He was being raised at a wildlife facility in Florida where he was brought after being found on a golf course. At that time he was a nestling, probably not more than days old. Despite the efforts of the facility to raise him without imprinting on humans, Scooby was much too acclimated to humans to return to the wild so he became a part of our family. We like to remind people at our programs that it is always preferable to return a young bird back to is parents, regardless of how cute it is. The time that a young birds spends with its own kind is called the "critical period." This is, when the birds not only learn the hunting skills and what type of prey to eat, but also the social skills necessary to relate to their own kind, including courtship and mating, but also skills that make great horned owls some of the best parents in the bird world. Their young can remain part of the immediate family for up to 6 months! Wow! This might account for why the great horned owl is so easily imprinted on humans. In return, our screech owl Pumpkin went to live at the facility to be a part of their education program. She would be retired from travelling, something that she never really enjoyed.
Meanwhile, Scooby embarked on the adventure that would soon become his life.
Scooby is smaller than most great horned owls, in part because the males of the species are always smaller than the females. We also believe that because Scooby's place of hatching was in South Florida, that may also contribute to his smaller size. Many raptors as well as other species tend to be smaller in this part of Florida because it helps them adapt to not only the heat, but survive on a smaller amount of food than their northern counterparts.
Great horned owls are known to be ferocious predators and will prey upon just about anything including rodents, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even fish. Other birds of prey aren't off limits and even cats have been found on their menu. EEK! Keep fluffy inside at night!
That's pretty ferocious reputation to live up to, isn't it Scooby? Who, who me?
Luckily for us, Scooby is, well a bit of a scaredy cat. Ironic isn't it? He is afraid of dogs, cats, big trucks, especially diesel engines, smoke, and big towering bizarre puppets (this one understandable). Despite the numerous things that frighten him, Scooby has proved to be an incredible educational ambassador. He is, for the most part very comfortable around large crowds of people and in close encounters.
Sometimes, however, it's just his presence that evokes powerful responses from people.
I have experienced some exceptional moments while showing Scooby at an event. People sometimes just want to sit quietly and look at him. They don't want to hear a story or be told anything. They just want to be in his presence.
We were once fortunate to allow a blind man the opportunity to experience the owl through guided touch. My favorite story however involves a lady who came to see Scooby. She showed me her owl tattoo. She told me about how her whole nursery had been decorated with owls and how her baby had died before it was born. Seeing Scooby seemed to trigger the healing moment that had perhaps evaded her since that awful event in her life. Both of us were now in tears and embraced. She got the photograph of a lifetime to commemorate the moment. This moment wasn't the first or even the only time I had witnessed someone that had been brought to tears simply by meeting Scooby.
Maybe it was because he grew up feeling comfortable around his throng of adoring fans. Ultimately he felt safe enough to allow people to connect with him, to be in his space, to participate calmly in an artificial situation, with strangers, and allow photographs to be taken much to the delight of his fans.
How did we get so lucky? Well a lot of it is Scooby's choice. Scooby and Percy were raised during the same time period. At the same shows, with the same exposure. Yet Percy remains much more reluctant to participate in scenarios in which Scooby feels quite at ease. We have, however carefully controlled every introduction, every participation, every type of event. We learned for how long, at what temperature, and how to tell when Scooby wasn't feeling safe in an interaction. He is definitely not into being touched, but will allow certain respectful closeness in appropriate situations, making people's dreams come true and creating opportunities that many will never forget.
Owls have often been associated with magical qualities. Some cultures even view owls as omens of death or bad luck. They are seen as messengers from the afterlife. Although from a personal perspective I will agree that owls have somewhat magical qualities, they are not evil or bringers of death. On the contrary, they bring happiness to so many, and happiness as an emotion is a life force. So I prefer to see them as a bringer of life. Happy October 31st to our friends no matter your celebration or your faith, we hope it brings you great merriment, peace, and the connection that you seek with this day.