Creature Feature: 1 3/4 wing barred owl

This is 1 3/4 Wing Barred Owl. She came to the museum in August of 1989, and was already an adult, so she is over 20 years old! When she arrived, she already had part of her left wing missing because it was fractured and had to be removed. The rest of the fractured wing healed incorrectly, and is kind of twisted. With this type of injury, she would obviously never be able to fly properly or live in the wild, so she came to live with us instead. She used to live outside in an exhibit enclosure, but she now lives on exhibit in Carolina Wildlife inside the museum.

When the museum acquired her, she also had signs of cornea degeneration and cataracts present in her left eye. This was something that, as long as she was not showing signs of pain, it was best for us to leave alone. Previously, I did a Creature Feature on our screech owl, who also had a bad eye. We finally had to remove the screech owl’s eye because of pain, but surgery is the last option when it comes to birds of prey. They tend to get stressed out very easily, and the chances of a bad outcome from surgery increases when anesthesia is added to the equation. So, we had her eye checked (along with several of our other animals with eye problems) once a year by Dr. English, an eye specialist (read the spotlight post on Dr. English here). Although the eye worsened over the years, she never showed signs of pain (which we monitor through appetite, stable weight, and overall behavior) to warrant a risky surgery. In December of 2006, her left eye ruptured and has not been an issue since.

We have four barred owls in our Carolina Wildlife exhibit (all of which have wing or eye injuries), but many people don’t even tend to notice the other three barred owls perching high in the exhibit. 1 3/4 Wing Barred Owl always perches very low to the ground, so she is typically the first barred owl that the visitors see. Sometimes they get so interested in her that they never think to look up and see the three barred owls that are staring at them!

The picture above is of Keeper Jill sitting with 1 3/4 Wing Barred Owl (that’s about as high as she ever perches). All of the keepers have different animals or species that they do operant conditioning with . You’ve already seen me training Chummix the goat, but Jill is working on de-sensitization (or de-sens” for short) with the barred owls. Even though the barred owls have been here for several years, they are still not comfortable with our presence in their exhibit, or us handling them. So everyday occurances, such as cleaning their exhibit, make them stressed out. So Jill’s job is to literally get the barred owls accustomed to her presence… which means sitting in the doorway and doing nothing! We like to give Jill a hard time about this form of operant conditioning, since she gets out of working by sitting in a doorway for hours.

But I’m sure that will be discussed more in a later spotlight post about Jill! Meanwhile, 1 3/4 Wing Barred Owl is really the only bird that Jill has had success with thus far. She has even started eating her mice in front of Jill, which is a pretty good accomplishment! Eventually, Jill will work up to getting 1 3/4 Wing Barred Owl to take mice directly from tongs as Jill holds them. Once she get’s there, she may actually be able start the training process!

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