One of the Living Coast’s well-known animal ambassadors
by Lindsay Bradshaw, Animal Care manager
I look around at my desk and see owl EVERYTHING: owl note box, owl toy, owl mug, owl tea set, owl stickers, owl magnet, et cetera. For the past three years, owls have been a dominant theme of my life. When I first started working at the Living Coast Discovery Center in the bird department, I was suddenly surrounded by some of the most beautiful birds I had ever seen in my life. I was particularly mesmerized by the owls, and one in particular quickly stole my heart. Let me tell you a little bit about him:
Tyto is a barn owl whose name comes from the Latin name for barn owl, Tyto alba. He was rescued as a chick after falling from his nest. He suffered a head injury and became imprinted to people during his rehabilitation, and now he would not be able to survive without human care. I had never seen a barn owl up close before working at the Living Coast and I decided I wanted to learn everything possible about these stunningly elegant birds. Now, we all know that you learn better when you share your knowledge with others (at least, that is how I learn best), so every morning I would recite to Tyto some of the new facts I had learned about his kind.
“Tyto, can you believe that the heart shaped feathers on your head actually help you hear? They funnel sound into your ears! I didn’t realize owls could hear so well. That must help a lot when hunting.”
“Tyto, do you know what else I learned? Did you know that if I looked inside your ear I could see the back of your eyeball? That’s how big your eyes are! Did you know owls have exceptional sight? Of course you do.”
“Tyto, I know how you do it – you have 14 vertebrae in your neck and I have only 7. This means you can turn your head around 270 degrees! That’s three quarters of the way around!”
Each day I would talk to him with great excitement and each day I was met with the same mundane reaction: a slow glance in my direction and an indifferent silence, his eyes hardly open. Maybe this was more because it was morning and he was sleepy after a busy night of doing owl things, and less about my fact telling, but who can know? From my human viewpoint though, it felt as though he acted like I was the most boring person ever to live and he was not afraid to show it. But I wasn’t defeated – I continued to recite facts to him each morning, regardless of his disinterest.
One thing I quickly came to learn about Tyto (and all the birds actually), is that how much they like you is directly proportional to what is in your hand. I liked to think it was my charming personality that won him over, but no… it was just the rat I was carrying.
Tyto is a magnificent bird and one of the Living Coast’s most well-known animal ambassadors. He visits schools, he has been on the news countless times, and he goes to outreaches in the surrounding community. One of the messages that our owl and human team tries to spread is educating people about the roles that various species play in their habitats. It is important for us to remember that we share our home in the city and surrounding areas with many animals, barn owls included. When you are out this Halloween night, keep your eyes open and you might just see an owl fly through the sky!
Lindsay Bradshaw is the Animal Care Manager at the Living Coast Discovery Center. She has worked for several animal-focused organizations, including Birch Aquarium at Scripps, Nature and Raptor Center of Pueblo, Maui Ocean Center, and the Vancouver Aquarium.