O.W.L.S program at the Storm Lake Library

Monday, January 16, 2017

Older, Wiser, Livelier Souls, also known as O.W.L.S, is a program between the Buena Vista County and Cherokee Conservation offices. More specifically it is the brain child of Naturalists Katie Struss and Laura Jones. The two have teamed up to bring conservation programs to adults in the area. The events go back and forth between the two counties and feature a different topic at every event.

In October, the first of their programs was supposed to be a presentation on pollinators in Cherokee, which got cancelled due to a lack of attendance. On Wednesday January 11, however, Struss presented on Owls in Iowa, at the Storm Lake Library. While the crowd was not large, it was certainly inquisitive. The presentation, just over an hour in length, featured information about the dietary and nesting habits of many of the owls that inhabit the state, as well as basic information concerning their defensive mechanisms. Struss often talked about her experiences with these birds, as she is often called to deal with them.

Luna, a Barred Owl, poses for a picture with her human, Naturalist Katie Struss, at the O.W.L.S presentation. Naturalist Katie Struss explained to the O.W.L.S audience about Luna the Barred owl’s past, in an effort to educated attendees about the challenges the wild species face. / Photo by Sarah Nicholson

The star of the show though was a 2 year old Barred Owl named Luna. Owls are part of the raptor family and Luna was a wonderful live example of both their power and beauty. Luna had been involved in a car accident when she was just six months old, resulting in the loss of her left wing. When Struss brought Luna out toward the end of her presentation she demonstrated how Luna’s balance was dependent on a tiny piece of shoulder joint. Struss said that Luna was lucky that the attending veterinarian was able to amputate below this joint, because even the small amount of bone, helped the bird maintain her balance. Birds who require amputation above the shoulder joint are often put down because they are unable to keep upright.

Struss explained to the group that owls fall under the category of raptors and have incredible vision, hearing, and hunting skills. Unlike other raptors, such as the one-eyed Red-tailed Hawk, named Odin, that also resides at the conservation park, owls are incredibly quiet when they take off, and being able to hear prey from sixty feet away, under 18 inches of snow, makes them a predatory force to be reckoned with. Struss also informed audience members that along with rodents and bugs on their menu, owls sometime also hunt skunks. Thankfully because of their quiet nature and poor sense of smell they don’t seem to mind their food’s defense mechanism.

Struss also made sure to mention that it is illegal to hunt owls in Iowa and that if someone was to happen upon an injured bird they should call conservation immediately, as even when threatened the birds are incredibly strong and have a grip of 500 pounds per square inch. Even Luna has retained her wild instincts. Struss joked that she often leaves the office to find a group of Luna’s boyfriends sitting outside Luna’s enclosure, answering her mating call.

The next O.W.L.S event has yet to be scheduled at the moment, but Struss encouraged anyone interested in future events to check out the conservation website, Facebook page, or join the conservation newsletter. The events can be cancelled due to lack of attendance so anyone interested in upcoming events is encouraged to let Jones or Struss know in advance, especially to insure enough refreshments are provided.