CROW’s newest animal ambassador is a great horned owl
Although the training was a long, at times sort of scary, road, CROW Rehabber Breanna Frankel said she could not imagine it any other way, as she looked at a great horned owl perched at the Visitor Education Center, smiling.
“She has a good personality. She definitely seems wise though, just looking at her,” she said.
Mina arrived at CROW at the beginning of the year appearing happy after she was found out of her nest. The great horned owl had lost part of her wing from an injury, an amputation that completely healed before she arrived at the hospital. Her mate had been caring for her, giving her the nutrition she needed before she was found.
“She came in kind of chunky. We have a one through five scale for what we consider their body condition. Three is the ideal body condition, five is chunky and one is emaciated. She was about a 3.5, maybe a four. She was well fed, so her mate was taking care of her,” Frankel said. “She came in healthy. Her wing looked great, her feet looked OK.”
CROW staff began observing Mina to see what they could do, if anything. Since a portion of her wing was missing, Frankel said they wanted to make sure she was not in pain. They had no idea how her wing became injured.
“At that point the thought of having a great horned owl (as an animal ambassador) was really not considered because master falconers have to have their license for seven years to possess one of these animals,” she explained. “It’s a huge deal that we are able to have her, let alone work with her safely.”
After CROW was given the OK, Frankel said they began working with the great horned owl by going into her cage and putting food down for Mina. They sat with Mina until she finished her food, which she ate without a problem.
Now, Mina is a three on the body condition scale, weighing about three pounds.
Shortly after Mina arrived at CROW, she also worked with other animals, through becoming a foster mom for a baby great horned owl.
“We were really nervous about it at first. We did not know her at that point and did not know what to expect. It seems like the bigger the owl that comes in as a baby the more easily habituated they are to people. We never want to habituate raptors at all, that would just be awful to put back out into the wild,” she said.
So, when the baby great horned owl was admitted to CROW, Frankel said they introduced Mina to it through a crate, a few days later, so they could see and smell each other.
“I remember the first day we put the crate in there, Mina was in there. Her perch might have been a little too high because I remember watching her try to jump down to go smell and see the baby and she just face planted. She gets up with this sandy face and shakes it off and wipes it and itches her face and just kind of trots over to the baby. They just kind of stood there and the baby was making sounds at her,” she said.
After a little bit, the door of the crate was opened and the CROW staff left the two alone. Frankel said they had no idea what to expect, but knew Mina was a full grown great horned owl that most likely had babies of her own at some point.
“The next day the baby was up in the nest box and there was Mina on the perch. Whenever we would go in there Mina would hop over in front of the nest box and protect the baby,” Frankel said. “There was one day in particular I left a quail for Mina and the next day it was dragged into the nest box for the baby. It wasn’t eaten. It was just in there. We never caught her feeding the baby, but she was definitely protective of the baby. Luckily the baby was able to be re-nested.”
The ability to witness Mina’s interaction was a huge step in learning about the great horned owl and her abilities. Mina then went to work with a falconer to work on her demeanor. After about a month, the falconer called and said they did everything they could, but Mina still had an attitude.
“To train a wild bird, they have to sit on your glove for 10 hours a day. That’s not something we can do here, just because of our time,” Frankel said.
Frankel kind of fell into the main role of working with Mina. She drove to Port St. Lucie to pick up Mina from the falconer, which was the day Frankel put her on the glove and she was fine. After bringing her back to CROW, they started the training very slow as Mina was very timid.
Frankel began working with her, encouraging her by shaking a mouse vigorously tempting her to jump onto the glove. After Mina would move onto the glove, Frankel would stand up, creating a new routine.
“She kind of learned that is how we do it. I walk in, she does her nibbling and I offer her a mouse and she will step right up. It’s amazing to see how far our progress has come just working with her. To me that is trust, I don’t know what an owl thinks,” she said. “It is honestly so rewarding to watch her progress and know that I am a part of that progress.”
Part of that progress is sitting on her perch during one of CROW’s newer presentations, “Patient Profiles: Owls of Southwest Florida,” which will be held again Wednesday, Aug. 23.
Aug. 9 was Mina’s second appearance during the presentation. She sat on her perch, while the audience admired her beauty through many photographs. She has also made guest appearances during the Wildlife Walk.
“Previously she would see someone and jump off the glove and try and get away. And just jump and jump repeatedly and exhaust herself. Now she just sits. She doesn’t hiss, launch herself,” Frankel said.
The duo worked together for two straight months to get to where they are today.
Rehabber Yvette Carrasco joined the efforts because she and Frankel had trained a burrowing owl the previous year, which unfortunately died.
“It took Mina about two weeks before she would look at Yvette and get on the glove,” Frankel said. “The day that it did, just watching Yvette’s face light up, it was just like whatever exciting holiday there is.”