WHO are they? the Owls of TCWC

This is Artie. He is a Great-horned Owl who lives at Treasure Coast Wildlife Center. He’s one of the educational birds traveling to schools and events in the area or being featured on tours of the center.

I took the photos for a “Superb Owl” contest and fundraiser promoted on Facebook. It ran the week before Super Bowl Sunday and the winner was announced that day.

Here is a side view of Artie. And yes he always looks this fierce, however he is actually feeling inside.

He was hit by a car and has an injury to his right wing that makes him unable to fly, so he cannot be returned to the wild. Brake for owls, people!

He was the first owl I handled at TCWC, as we volunteers and the rehabbers bring the birds from the mews to the display area (weathering yard) daily. I was a bit clumsy with him because I was a bit afraid of him, and I get the feeling he doesn’t really like me that much. I hope he changes his mind as I improve my owl-handling skills!

Dusk is a blind Barn Owl who is still very good at flying around his enclosure in the display area. He is utterly silent in flight, with special feathers adapted for that sneakiness. You wouldn’t want to be a mouse wandering around in his enclosure at night.

Luna is a male Barred Owl who is partially blind but can fly, so he is a little tricky to catch in the mews. He likes to have his head scratched and that is one of the tricks to keep him from flying off while I (hopefully) quickly and skillfully clip onto his jesses.

I did feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment after I patiently stalked and gently caught him the first time. In the mews the birds have their own solo enclosures and are “free to move about the cabin”! In the weathering yard they are clipped to their perches for their own and each others’ safety.

Leela is also a Barred Owl, partially blind, and Luna is her boyfriend. When he gets carried out to the weathering yard, she is usually there first and she hoots and hoots! They get perched near each other.

The Barred Owl’s hooting call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” is a classic sound of old forests and treed swamps. But this attractive owl, with soulful brown eyes and brown-and-white-striped plumage, can also pass completely unnoticed as it flies noiselessly through the dense canopy or snoozes on a tree limb.

Leela is also flighted and a couple of the rehabbers are very skilled at catching her in mid-air. I admire them!

Olga is a gorgeous queen. She’s a Great Horned Owl and the largest owl at TCWC.

GHOs are the largest owl in Florida and female raptors are usually about a third larger than the males. She’s got a fractured right wing.

TCWC hosts children’s birthday party and the party boy or girl gets to choose a bird to come out and meet the guests. Olga is a frequent and impressive choice!

Beautiful feather pattern. And check out those talons! When you go to pick her up, she hisses and bites the leather falconer’s glove once, then allows you clip her and slide the glove under her from behind to step up on.

In general, owls step backwards on and off the glove and hawks and others step forward onto the glove. I do not know why!


Ruby is an Eastern Screech Owl, the smallest breed of owl in Florida. Her coloring is “red morph” rather than gray morph. She has a wing injury and gets perched out in the mini-mews.

If a mysterious trill catches your attention in the night, bear in mind the spooky sound may come from an owl no bigger than a pint glass.

Kali is also an Eastern Screech Owl and she was the WINNER of the Superb Owl contest, with the most points. One donated dollar equaled one point.

She is a lovely petite red morph. About one-third of Screech Owls are red like her. She is missing an eye. When I pick her up, it’s like picking up a feather! I cannot feel her weight at all.

Bird eyes

This is Artie. He’s an educational ambassador at Treasure Coast Wildlife Center. He can only stare straight ahead. No, I mean it. Like all owls, his eyes cannot move. He turns his head when he wants to look in a different direction.

Great Horned Owls like Artie have the largest eyes of all North American birds – they are almost the size of a human eye.

More amazing owl eye facts, from GreatHornedOwl.net

The size as well as the position of the eye is perfect for hunting at night. The bigger lens means that the owl can absorb as much light as possible. That is how the bird manages to see things even in low-light conditions.

More on owl eyeballs (actually eye tubes!)

Bald Eagles also have large, fixed eyes, like owls. So weird, right? In fact, it’s true that ALL BIRDS have very limited eye movement in the socket.

Birds have the largest eyes relative to their size in the animal kingdom, and movement is consequently limited within the eye’s bony socket.

But eagles do have eye superpowers that humans don’t. According to the webpage on Eagle Eyes at the National Eagle Center site…

Eagles use both monocular and binocular vision, meaning they can use they eyes independently or together depending on what they are looking at.

An eagle eye has two focal points (called “fovea” [singular] or “foveae” [plural]) one of which looks forward and the other to the side at about a 45 degree angle. These two foveae allow eagles to see straight ahead and to the side simultaneously. The fovea at 45 degrees is used to view things at long distances. An eagle can see something the size of a rabbit at more than three miles away.

And…

Eagles can distinguish more colors than humans. They can also see in the UV range of light, allowing them to see the urine trail of prey.

Like most birds, eagles have upper and lower eyelids plus a “third eyelid” called a nictitating membrane.

The nictitating membrane closes horizontally across the eye and provides moisture, protection and cleans the eye.

This eagle is Golfball. He is a permanent resident on display at TCWC. He was hit by a golf ball while perched on a tree branch at a golf course and it broke his wing. He has a partial wing amputation. When I clean his enclosure, he chirps at me.

More on eagle vision

If you swapped your eyes for an eagle’s, you could see an ant crawling on the ground from the roof of a 10-story building. You could make out the expressions on basketball players’ faces from the worst seats in the arena. Objects directly in your line of sight would appear magnified, and everything would be brilliantly colored, rendered in an inconceivable array of shades.

That sounds amazing!

Hawk eye.

Herc is a fine specimen of a Red-tailed Hawk. (Note the reddish brown tail.) He is an educational bird at TCWC. He has a partial wing injury.

Herc too has very large eyes compared to the size of the head.

The visual ability of birds of prey is legendary, and the keenness of their eyesight is due to a variety of factors. Raptors have large eyes for their size, 1.4 times greater than the average for birds of the same weight, and the eye is tube-shaped to produce a larger retinal image.

Notice also…

In most raptors, a prominent eye ridge and its feathers extend above and in front of the eye. This “eyebrow” gives birds of prey their distinctive stare. The ridge physically protects the eye from wind, dust, and debris and shields it from excessive glare.

My, what big eyes you have too!

Ali’i is a female Red-tailed Hawk at TCWC. She has a broken wing at one shoulder and is blind in one eye after being hit by a truck on King’s Highway in Martin County. She’s a big bird, but pretty easy to get up on the falconer’s glove. She’s a pro!

Another big-eyed raptor: Phoenix the Short-tailed Hawk.

Phoenix was brought to TCWC recently with a severe wing injury that eventually required amputation. She is young and adaptable, around 2 years old, and that’s part of the reason she made a good candidate for an educational bird. (You can visit Phoenix and the other educational and display birds Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Group tours are available with reservations.)

Short-tailed Hawks are a tropical species ranging from Florida south into Central and South America. They are fairly uncommon in Florida (maybe only 500 of them).

Phoenix is the first one I’ve ever seen (#227 on blog sidebar), and now I get to see her every day I volunteer.

A Short-tailed Hawk “seldom perches in the open; when hunting, it regularly soars very high, where it may go unnoticed by the observer on the ground. Unlike most of the Buteo hawks, the Short-tail feeds mostly on small birds, dropping from the sky to take them by surprise.”

For size comparison, check out the eye on this Brown Pelican in the pelican enclosure at TCWC.

And perched on the top of the pelican enclosure, a wild Black Vulture keeping an eye out for any clean up opportunities.

More on Bird vision.

The neighborhood owl

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“The great horned owl is back!” my neighbor texted. She lives a block away. It was getting dark. But I managed to hustle over there and get a few shots of this impressive bird.

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With its long, earlike tufts, intimidating yellow-eyed stare, and deep hooting voice, the Great Horned Owl is the quintessential owl of storybooks. This powerful predator can take down birds and mammals even larger than itself, but it also dines on daintier fare such as tiny scorpions, mice, and frogs. It’s one of the most common owls in North America, equally at home in deserts, wetlands, forests, grasslands, backyards, cities, and almost any other semi-open habitat between the Arctic and the tropics.

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This owl has been spotted in this tree a number of times in the past month or so.

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In other owl news, the Screech Owl house my husband built has been occupied by a pair of lovey-dovey squirrels. Annoying.

A rapture of raptors

I didn’t expect to go birdwatching at the ArtsFest in downtown Stuart yesterday, but Treasure Coast Wildlife Center brought some rescued raptors to a pavilion in Memorial Park. And what birds to watch they were!

Here are some closeup “portraits” with my Canon SX60.

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Barn Owl is (charmingly) nocturnal.

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Great Horned Owl wins the staring contest.

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This Peregrine Falcon is retired from falconry, I learned.

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Red-shouldered Hawk is a forest hunter. They look a lot like Broad-winged Hawks and the Florida native version is lighter in color. I wonder if I am confusing my local hawks, since Broad-winged are rarer around here.

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Crested Caracara is wicked cool. A new bird for me.

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Red-tailed Hawk is fiercely beautiful.

A visit to the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center

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Ardea alba, the Great Egret, on the roof of an aviary for injured birds at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center in Tavernier, Florida.

I visited last Friday afternoon, during a three-and-a-half day trip to the Sunshine State. Here is a Flickr photo album of the bird center.

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Beautiful bird.

There were 4 or 5 Broad-winged Hawks, mostly with wing injuries. One was missing an eye.

A boardwalk led visitors among the different enclosures. Turkey vultures and hawks were segregated with their own kind, but the shorebirds were all together in several large enclosures.

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Sad Turkey Vulture.

The enclosures were large and airy (outdoors) and very clean. This place seems well-run and well-cared for. The only other person I saw while I was there, besides one staff person, was a man with one leg, another visitor.

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The path among the aviaries ends at the Florida Bay, where I sat on a bench among a bunch of Brown Pelicans and watched White ibises dipping their beaks into the mud in the mangroves.

A sanctuary for healthy as well as injured birds, it seems.

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Big yellow eyes. This Great Horned Owl is one of the permanent residents due to injuries.

our history

Three cheers for Bird Ladies, especially this one.

The Florida Keys Wild Bird Center (The Center) is a not for profit 501(c) 3 conservation organization dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of native and migratory wild birds that have been harmed or displaced, to providing or locating a humane shelter for those birds that cannot be released, and to educating the public toward the importance of coexistence with all wild bird species.

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Impractical but pretty feathers, grown by the Great Egret in breeding season. This bird kept appearing just ahead of me during my hour long visit, posing it almost seemed.

The Great Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society, one of the oldest environmental organizations in North America. Audubon was founded to protect birds from being killed for their feathers.

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Poof, a small gust of wind and the nuptial plumes were a mess.

The pristinely white Great Egret gets even more dressed up for the breeding season. A patch of skin on its face turns neon green, and long plumes grow from its back. Called aigrettes, those plumes were the bane of egrets in the late nineteenth century, when such adornments were prized for ladies’ hats.

I have more photos from my trip and will make a couple more albums, when I get around to it.

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Great Egret on the roof, with the moon.

More than 95 percent of the Great Egrets in North America were killed for their plumes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Plume-hunting was banned, for the most part, around 1910, and Great Egret populations quickly began to recover.

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