Owls at the San Francisco Zoo
A Story Of Survival.
The San Francisco zoo is a haven for rescued wildlife and the owl population is no exception.
Meet Athena as pictured above. She is the Eurasian Eagle Owl who lives in the Children's zoo and is cared for by the Koret Animal Resource Center at theSan Francisco zoo..
It is illegal to import owls and birds in general into the United States because they can carry disease. Nevertheless, a smuggler back in 2005 thought he would bring in over a dozen owl eggs into the country by dyeing the eggs to look like Easter eggs and sell them for over five thousand dollars a piece. Only three of those survived and one of them was Athena.
She was rescued by the United States Fish and Wildlife service at the San Francisco airport and was brought to the San Francisco zoo for her own protection and to receive the care she needed after her traumatic event. Because her first imprint (meaning the first impression she saw was a human and was always handled by humans) she could not be released into the wild. The smuggler is now serving time in federal prison.
Athena can live up to sixty years old and has a permanent home at the San Francisco zoo.
Eurasian Eagle Owl Facts.
Eurasian eagle owls can weigh up to ten pounds with a wingspan of over five feet. They are the largest in the world. Though nocturnal they can be active both day and night. They feed on rodents, birds, rabbits and even sometimes small deer. At the SF Zoo Athena dines on mice.
Athena is a strikingly beautiful bird and one of the more popular owls at the San Francisco zoo. Like many of the other owls at the zoo, she travels to San Francisco schools on a regular basis in order to educate and entertain school children.
Stolen At Birth
The Great Horned Owl, Archimedes, who lives at the San Francisco zoo was stolen at birth by someone who took him from his nest. They did not know how to care for an owl and as a result he was in poor health when rescued by the zoo and was taken to the Koret Animal Resource Center.
At the zoo, he was treated and is now doing well. He has an acute sense of hearing, as do all owls. He spends most of his time at the zoo among the grass habitat, behind Wilbur the barn owl.
He is difficult to find within that habitat but if you are lucky enough to get a glimpse of him, he is quite a sight to see.
Great Horned Owl Facts
Great horned owls can live up to twenty years in the wild but in captivity much longer. The female great horned are larger than their male counterparts and can weigh up to four pounds. These beautiful owls will basically eat anything they can find though at the zoo they are fed mice.
I also wanted to note that the mice that are fed to the owl population at the zoo are mice that were previously used in various laboratories for testing and before they are fed to the owls they are tested and cleaned of their intestines to make sure they are clean (no disease).
In the wild, they feed on rodents, herons, squirrels, chipmunks, songbirds, lizards and much more. Whatever moves, they eat.
Remember the movie the Exorcist? Well these owls can rotate their heads in the same manner. I personally have not seen the great horned at the zoo do this but I have seen Athena do it.
Wilbur The Barn Owl
History and Interesting Facts.
The docents and zoo staff at the Koret Animal Resource Center in the Children's zoo are extremely knowledgeable and helpful. I have been learning so much not only about Wilbur but all of the animals within that particular area.
When Wilbur and his two brothers were born they contracted West Nile Virus. They were all treated for the disease. His two brothers were cured and sent out into the wild. Wilbur, however, though cured of the disease, has neurological problems and attention deficit disorder which prohibits him from being released into the wild. He is cared for by the Koret Animal Resource Center staff and is inoculated on a regular basis.
Wilbur is fed five to eight mice per day. When he is full, he will emit a high screech chirp that tells the zoo staff, "I've had enough!" Although I have not personally seen this, I am told while he is eating, he will do the "Chubby Checker twist." No one really knows why he does this but I am told it is entertaining. I hope to have video of this soon.
Wilbur Taking A Bath
I was elated to see Wilbur at play while visiting the zoo. Though he is a home body and loves his barn, he will come out and play a little while right before dusk. His fans are always on hand for his antics and taking a bath is fun for everyone. He will jump in his bath, stomp in the water a few times then get out and perch on the rim of his bucket and turn around and look at his adoring fans. He will do this about three times, then go back into his barn and rest. I am learning that he does have quite a personality so I do not know if this bath ritual is entertainment for the crowds or just something he does. Either way, it's good to see him animated.
As I mentioned before, owls have acute hearing and barn owls in particular hunt with their ears. Wilbur I have found has very sensitive hearing. When he is asleep if he hears a familiar voice like that of the docents and myself, he will open his eyes and turn his head towards the voice he hears. I am always happy when I visit and I whisper his name and he awakens.
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