The Great Horned Owl pictured here with his caretaker, Sharon Schmalz was the Wildlife Center of Texas’ oldest educational ambassador. He peacefully died in his sleep during November of 2008. His mesmerizing golden eyes were photographed by amateur and professional alike. The public usually responded to the eyes first, talons second then finally to his sheer presence.
The Wildlife Center of Texas does not name our ambassadors out of respect for their wild nature. The Wildlife Center of Texas also feels bestowing a human name on a wild animal sends a mixed message to the children and adults attending our educational lectures where they are told that almost all wildlife is protected by state and federal laws. The beloved “Great Horned Owl” that was entrusted to our care was an educational ambassador for over twenty (20) years.
He came to us after he was shot and part of his wing was amputated. The Wildlife Center of Texas obtained the state and federal permits to keep him as an educational ambassador. He educated over 100,000 schoolchildren, teens and adults about respecting wildlife, respecting the environment, and respecting each other. No one could come in contact with this powerful bird of prey without feeling profound emotions. In the words of his caretaker, Sharon Schmalz, “Great Horned Owl” was never my pet. He still belonged to Mother Nature; I was just his caretaker after a human injured him. He gave to me more than I ever gave to him.
My favorite times were watching the expression on the faces of children and adults when they saw him majestically emerge from the carrying case. I knew how the audience felt because I felt it too…every time. The perfect colors of his feathers, the strong wing beats, the huge talons and the large golden eyes made me respect him and all his fellow wild creatures. A picture could never capture his magnificence. I always felt so lucky to be able to care for this Great Horned Owl but sad that he would never soar again on this earth. He is soaring now above us all and watching how each of those human hearts that he once touched can make a difference for his fellow wild animals and for their fellow human beings.”
Our current Great Horned Owl Education Ambassador came to us in the early spring of 2009 as a juvenile with a broken wing. Younger birds usually break the wing during a fall, while older birds are hit by cars as they swoop to snatch a mouse that it has flushed onto the roadway. In addition to a break that did not heal cleanly, it also exhibits some signs of brain injury.
Arguably the most beautiful of North America’s owls, the distinctive heart-shaped face and white speckled chest makes the Barn Owl unforgettably distinctive. The voice of the Barn Owl isn’t what you’d expect of such a delicately handsome raptor. Instead of a permutation of a hoot, the Barn Owl’s voice is a series of hisses, clicks and growls that would make a C-grade movie monster proud.
At first glance, the Barn Owl doesn’t look like it would camouflage easily. However, all it needs to do to disappear is turn its back. The feathers of the back and exterior surfaces of the wing blend extraordinarily into the rafters of barns or sheds or against the trunk of most trees. The feather detail is exquisite, each dot or speck resembles the most beautiful Birds’ Eye Maple.
Our Barred Owl Education Ambassador has dark brown eyes that appear to be absolutely bottomless. Only the Great Horned Owl has a more arresting gaze. Barred Owls are extremely common in the Texas Gulf coast but because of extremely effective camouflage they are not frequently sighted. However, these very social raptors are often heard calling to each other. The call is a string four notes that sounds like “Who cooks for you?”
Education Ambassador Eastern Screech Owl. The Screech Owl exhibits two phases (colors), red and grey. The red phase blends seamlessly in cedar and pine, while the gray phase prefers hardwoods such as oak. This Eastern Screech Owl can often be found snoozing in its hollow log located in the visitor’s center. The Screech Owl’s camouflage is so good that visitors often overlook it or think it is a decorative plush toy.
Sometimes mistaken by the public to be baby Great Horned Owls, the Eastern Screech Owl is between 7 and 10 inches tall when full grown.
Contrary to their name, Screech Owls don’t screech. Their voice is a soft sweet ascending whistle. When annoyed, just like other owls, they will click/clack their beak. Somehow it isn’t as intimidating coming from a predator who’s favorite treat is a big juicy cockroach.
The Eastern Screech Owl is at home in rural, suburban and urban settings. A master of camouflage and a quiet solitary nature make this a hard raptor to find in the wild. Never the less, if there are trees (even the little oaks planted along roadways) and plenty of insects, lizards and small mice, there will be Screech Owls present.
Our Red Tailed Hawk Education Ambassador came to us as a juvenile with a broken wing. At first, hopes were high for a full recovery, but after conditioning we sadly acknowledged that it couldn’t lift itself more than a couple of feet off of the ground.
This magnificent raptor can be frequently found in the visitor’s center on the porch of the “Peaceful Coexistence House”. Unlike the timid Screech Owl, the Red Tailed Hawk is never overlooked or thought to be a plush toy.
Education Ambassador Peregrine Falcon. This guy is just simply “too full of himself”. While he is still too high strung for traditional education presentations, he keeps the volunteers in the triage area in stitches. The Peregrine Falcon has been with us since early 2009 and expected to soon be wowing the crowd at education presentations.
The wing breaks were severe enough that to save its life a Wildlife Center of Texas volunteer veterinarian amputated the tips of both wings. The wildlife in our care have a lot to teach us, but this raptor embodies a “can do” spirit. The Peregrine falcon is in constant motion as it flutters from perch to perch, grabs dinner from the perch tosses it to the platform only to pounce.