Back in November, I had the pleasure of meeting some pretty amazing owls. It’s rare to see them perched or nesting in the wild, and it’s no fun to see them in zoos. So when I found out that the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia was allowing photographers to meet several types of owls up close and personal, I grabbed my camera and jumped at the chance.
This was no ordinary photo opportunity. The conservancy understood the value to photographers of viewing the owls in a natural environment. They carefully placed the previously-injured, non-releasable birds on tree limbs and trunks, and talked about their biology and survival traits.
The first owl was a small Eastern Screech named Smoke. After being hit by a car, he lost most of his vision, but he’s as cute as ever. He’s one of the most requested birds at the sanctuary. And where there’s Smoke, there’s Fire. Fire is a deep orange red and even smaller than Smoke. She looks like the original Angry Bird. She also was the victim of a vehicle injury that took most of her vision. We learned that vehicles are one of the largest threats to birds of prey, mostly because they spend a lot of time feeding on roadkill.
After about a half hour of enjoying these tiny raptors, they brought out the big birds. Zeus, a Great Horned Owl, certainly was god-like. His eyes are larger than a human’s, and his seemingly large body weighs in at just 2-3 pounds. Zeus was impressive–and a bit intimidating–in his tree. His talons were massive, and he could bite off a finger with his beak.
The final player for the afternoon was an adorable Barred Owl, Hipster. She looked like a Teddy bear in an owl’s body. They took her deeper into the woods and allowed her to perch on a downed tree trunk. This round body sitting on top of tiny legs was comical, yet one look at those eyes confirmed that there was deep thought behind them.
Besides some amazing shots, I certainly left with an appreciation for these complex raptors and an understanding of just how strong, yet vulnerable, they really are.