Monday, September 26, 2011

THE OWL FOUNDATION

Here I am with Kay McKeever, who has been working with owls since 1965. The foundation, which she co-founded with her late husband, Larry, became a registered charity in 1975. This woman is a "Rock Star" in the birding world, and it was a true honour to meet her.

This past Saturday, Rob and I, along with our friends, Jim and Lynda, visited the "Owl Foundation" in Vineland, Ontario. It was the first time for all of us. I had heard about this organization a couple years ago, but it wasn't until this past spring that I actually took the time to sit down and read about them. What I read blew my mind!! You can read all about this incredible organization here.

The work that they do there is truly amazing, but the one thing that stands out for me and I tell anyone who will listen, is about the "Foster Parent Owls". They actually have wild owls there, that due to injuries cannot be released back to the wild, but can act as foster parents to young injured and orphaned owls!! Let me paint you a picture. A young orphaned owl is brought into the Toronto Wildlife Centre, it is then sent to The Owl Foundation, where after it is checked out, is placed with a foster parent owl of the same species, who teaches the young owl how to eat, hunt, fly, groom, basically be an owl, so in time it can be released back to the wild in the vicinity where it was found!!! Isn't that amazing!!!???

This resident female Great Horned Owl played Mom to 14 young Great Horned Owls this spring alone! They will be released next spring.

The Owl Foundation isn't open to the public, as it's a rehabilitation centre, not a zoo, and the less interaction with humans, the better. But, every Fall, as it's the least stressful time for owls, sponsors are invited for a tour on a date and time given by the foundation. For my birthday this year I sponsored a male resident Snowy Owl named Chinook. I was very excited about seeing my sponsor owl and visiting the foundation in general.


Before the tour started, a list of resident owls that had passed away from old age or disease recently was read. I was devastated to hear Chinook's name. When your emotions are running high all the time due to the fact that your Mother is slowly dying of a terminal illness, it doesn't take much to set you off. So, there I was, standing with a group of strangers crying over an owl that I never even got to lay eyes on, who had died only 5 days before.

A carving of a wooden owl on the foundation's grounds.

I pulled myself together and the tour started. I was truly impressed with this place, and how the enclosures are arranged. A lot of them are screen covered to keep mosquitoes out, as West Nile is a huge threat to the birds. Some of the larger enclosures even open up through-out giving the birds more fly space and the chance to form bonds and mate with other resident owls of their choosing.

Two Eastern Screech Owls peeking out through the cedars in their enclosure.

I was happy to hear that my own Chinook had formed a bond with another snowy owl named Winnie, and that they had successfully had young which were able to be released into the wild. Chinook and Winnie were together for 8 years. Winnie passed away on July 16th of this year and Kay believes that Chinook died of a broken heart, just a little over 2 months later. Though it was shown that Chinook died of a blood parasite, being depressed over the death of his mate probably depleted his immune system and it sounds much more romantic.

We got to see many Great Gray Owls, what big beautiful birds they are! We had not seen one before, so it was really thrilling for us.

These 2 juvenile Great Gray Owls will be released in the spring of 2012.

I love how expressive the Great Gray's face is, so wide-eyed and curious.

Rob actually captured the "twinkle" in his eye.

The last stop on the tour was "the house", where Kay McKeever lived, and still does, though the house is now property of the foundation, as the foundation is set up and will carry on without Kay. There is a monitoring room in the house where all the birds can be watched on live video screens. They have very little human interaction here to keep them wild. The house is full of owl stuff! Lot's of Robert Bateman paintings adorn the walls, a good friend of Kay's.

A plaque of the foundation's logo adorns one of the walls in the house.

The most interesting thing in the house without a doubt is "Big Bird", a Great Gray Owl who lives in the house, not in a cage, but on a perch in the sun-room for the day, while cats snooze nearby in the sunny room. I hear the cats are scared of Big Bird and leave him alone. Big Bird is not an human imprint, but has brain damage and is blind in one eye, so he gets to live out his final years in the comfort of the house. After seeing so many owls in enclosures, it came as a pleasant surprise to see this Owl out in the open like he was, enjoying the sunshine in the brightly lit sun-room.

Introducing "Big Bird", a Great Gray Owl.

After much photo taking of Big Bird we were taken to the "monitoring room" where we got to meet the lady herself, Kay McKeever, who still watches the owls on the wall of live monitors and takes notes on their behavior.

Rob stayed behind to talk to Kay, who at 87 is still spry, while I went to purchase a few things, and then went back to talk to Kay a little bit more myself.

Rob and Kay, they had quite the chat while I was doing some purchasing of raffle tickets to support the foundation.

I told her that it was my dream to retire, move to the area, and volunteer there and one day we will. But in the mean time, Rob's already signed up as a volunteer driver to transport injured owls.

I encourage you all to learn more about this amazing organization and the lady who dedicated her life to helping the owls.
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