Ventura's Olivas Adobe fetes return of owl couple
Ventura County Star | 4/16/2013

Tucked in the crook of a towering eucalyptus, two predatory puffs of fur marked their one-week birthday Sunday at the Olivas Adobe Historical Park’s annual owl festival in Ventura.

The great horned owlets are the latest offspring of a monogamous couple that returns each year to the same feathery eucalyptus tree to breed. More than 100 bird-watchers, young and old, attended the daylong event to celebrate the owls’ homecoming and learn about local raptors.

“The parent owls have been coming here for more than 20 years,” said longtime observer and park volunteer Lola Lynch, who coordinated Sunday’s event. “They are like the swallows returning to Mission San Juan Capistrano every spring; this park, this tree, is where they come every year to have their brood.”

For the next seven weeks, the baby owls will stay in their nest, which is a hollow padded with a few twigs. By early June, the owlets will begin to fly to nearby trees.

After about 10 weeks, they will take to the air on hunting trips at dawn and dusk with their mother, named Olivia by park docents.

Visitors are welcome to view the nestlings’ progress for free. The park is open daily.

Binoculars and a telescope are available on site.

The great horned owl is a fierce predator with sharp talons that grip its prey — usually rodents and even skunks — with the most force of any raptor, said Kim Stroud, with the Ojai Raptor Society. Nothing preys on adult great horned owls, which are named for the horn-shaped tufts of feathers on their heads.

“They’re the most aggressive predator in the raptor kingdom,” Stroud said. “They’re the strongest, they’re the meanest, they have the most pressure in their talons to hurt you, and they use their talons and their beaks to do damage.”

Great horned owls weigh about 4 pounds with a wingspan of four to five feet. About 80 percent of great horned owlets die in the wild.

This year, Stroud’s raptor rescue center has 10 baby great horned owls in rehabilitation that have fallen from nests or experienced other mishaps. The center gets about 60 a year, rescued by members of the public and animal-control officers.

Stroud showed Sunday’s visitors several rescued raptors native to the area. All suffered injuries or had contact with humans too soon, known as imprinting.

There was Rosie, a red-tailed hawk with a broken wing whose nest had been attacked by ravens, and Handsome, a redheaded turkey vulture with a beak that can tear through a cowboy boot like butter.

The crowd favorite was Lucy, a small screech owl whose golden eyes were gouged by another predator when she was young. Now vision-impaired, Lucy has been foster mother to 15 baby screech owls for the center, all successfully released back into the wild, Stroud said.

Lucy will never leave the shelter because, for raptors, seeing is living. Of all living things, a raptor has the keenest vision, enabling it to see in microscopic detail for miles and in more colors than visible to the human eye, Stroud said.

Poison, gunshots, electric shock and disease are the greatest threats to raptors like the great horned owl in California, she said. But the bird’s size and fierceness place it safely above other predators. Among bird-watchers, the great horned owl has earned the title “tiger of the sky.”

“It is inspiring seeing them up close,” said Norm Hudson, of Ventura. 

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