Owl Awareness Event draws big crowds

Carrie Nelson of Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester with a Northern Saw-whet Owl during International Owl Awareness Day, August 4, 2019 at the Houston educational International Owl Center.
By : 
Scott Bestul

They may have been a day ahead of the official event, but the folks at Houston’s International Owl Center (IOC) figured it would be OK to host an Owl Awareness Day last Saturday, August 3. They were right. Over 250 people came to the celebration of all things owl that included educational programs with live owls, arts and crafts for kids, and vendors.

August 4 is the actual International Owl Awareness Day, according to IOC executive director Karla Bloem “We were really only aware of the international event a few years back,” said Bloem. “I guess someone decided there should be an International Owl Awareness Day, so they created a Facebook page and declared August 4th as the date. And suddenly it was ‘a thing’. We had a small event last summer to celebrate, but decided we’d try to do a little more this year. ”

Activities were held at the Houston Elementary School, two blocks from the center, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and included live owls on display, an owl-carving exhibition by Robin Warburton, and a display of artwork devoted to owls from kids around the world. In addition, vendors that included artists, booksellers, cookie decorators and t-shirt sellers, were on hand throughout the day.

Bloem also entertained the crowd with a “Great Horned Owl Soap Opera” which summarized the lives of several owls that live in the Houston area. “It’s juicier than anything you’d see on TV,” Bloem laughed. “We recognize different owls around here just by their voices, which are very distinct for each bird. So we name them, and then keep track of their comings and goings just by listening to them. I created the soap opera from actual events as we recorded owls over the last several years.”

According to the script created by Bloem, the soap opera began when an owl named Victor evicted a breeding pair known as “Wendell and Wheezy” from their own territory. “Then Wheezy got sick and died, so Victor and Virginia ran Wendell off. When Rusty and Iris moved in, Scarlett Owl Hara showed up to try to steal Rusty and kill Alice. Virginia died, Hagar and Helga moved in, Helga disappeared and Jill left Jack for Hagar. After Hagar disappeared, Lilith showed up and attacked Jill!”

In addition to Bloem’s oral, though decidedly tongue-in-cheek soap opera, there were actual owls on hand to entertain visitors. Naturalists from nearby Oxbow Park and the Owl Center itself showed visitors a northern saw-whet owl, an Eastern screech owl, a barred owl, and a great horned owl during the bird-handling portion of the program.

Long fascinated with the nocturnal raptors, Bloem said the center’s popularity is proof that she’s not the only person interested in owls. “We’re the only all-owl education center in the country. It all started with Alice, who was the only educational raptor we could get our hands on at the time. We started the Owl Festival with Alice, and we’d have a thousand people show up. So we got to thinking ‘Well, there’s a wolf center, and a bear center, and an eagle center...why not one devoted just to owls?’ We’d been open awhile before we finally decided to start keeping track of where our visitors were from in a guest book. The first week we did that we had people from 33 states and six foreign countries. “

Bloem notes that the center’s popular children’s owl-art competition begins this month and, if last year is any indication, she expects to be inundated with entries. “In 2018 we had a total of 4,444 submissions,” she said. “Those came from all over the U.S., and 37 foreign countries.”  For more information on the art contest and the International Owl Center, visit their website internationalowlcenter.org.