Whoooo's that? Live birds are stars at Fairbanks Owlpalooza

Reba Lean
ERIC ENGMAN / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner via Associated Press

FAIRBANKS -- Earl, Gus, Ghost and Yoda were the highlights of the Alaska Bird Observatory's Owlpalooza on Oct. 1, even though they did none of the talking.

Dave Dorsey of the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage unveiled Ghost, a snowy owl, to the crowd.

People gave a collective "Oooh," at the sight of the white-feathered raptor.

"I told you, it's not 'oooh,' it's 'owl,' " Dorsey joked.

Dorsey held Ghost by the jesses as he told the crowd of dozens about the lifestyle of the male bird.

"They're not social birds, so they're not often seen in Fairbanks," he said. Just outside of Fairbanks, however, is another story. The snowy owls call the Arctic tundra home. It's where they chase after their favorite food -- lemmings.

Several times throughout Ghost's presentation, he stretched out his wings to reveal their impressive width. More ooohing was heard from the crowd.

Other owls -- Yoda the boreal owl, Earl the gray owl and Gus the great horned owl -- also made appearances.

Earl became famous in Fairbanks this summer when he escaped from his cage. Not able to fly well because of a broken wing, he stayed near his home at his keeper Nancy Dewitt's but wasn't found for two weeks.

Jen Bruce eventually found the guy, looking hungry but in otherwise good shape. Bruce introduced him to the crowd.

Although his body looks big, it is mostly enhanced by fluffy feathers, especially around the face. Large discs of feathers outline Earl's eyes, making his hearing more effective for hunting.

While Earl appears larger than Gus, he actually isn't. Great horned owls like Gus tend to eat gray owls like Earl.

Families stood captivated, many parents with a child on their shoulders. Kids weaved through the crowd to get a closer look. Many picked up several new tidbits about owls.

"I never knew that snowy owls never migrate until there is a shortage of food," 10-year-old Jacob Shirk said.

He said his favorite was the great horned owl.

Kathryn Carlson's favorite was the snowy owl. She also learned something during the presentations.

"I learned that they can eat other owls," said Kathryn, 8.

To warm up from the outdoors presentations, families could head into the Center for Education and Research. There, owl wings, skulls, talons and pellets were on display for people to inspect up close.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner