Friday, May 4, 2012

Cupid: The American Barn Owl

I would like to introduce you to a new member of World Bird Sanctuary; Cupid the Barn Owl. 
How could anyone resist this face?
Cupid’s parents are Buffy and Moonshine—one of our newest breeding pairs.  Cupid was hatched on February 14th, 2012 in one of the Propagation Department mews in the Sunnen Building.  His hatch date, fluffy white down, and striking heart-shaped face inspired the name Cupid.  (And if those beautiful brown eyes don’t pierce your heart, it probably isn’t beating).  

When Cupid turned five days old, Roger Wallace, WBS’s propagation coordinator, gently took him out of his parents’ nest and transferred him to a brooder box.  This box keeps the bird warm, like its real mother would, until it is big enough and has a thick, downy coat to keep itself warm.  Some of Cupid’s nest mates remained in the nest to be raised by the parents.  Those birds will have  minimal contact with humans and will be released into suitable barn owl habitat when they are old enough. 
Cupid was removed from the nest at such a young age in order to accustom him to humans.  When Cupid becomes an adult, he will fly in World Bird Sanctuary Education programs as an ambassador for his species, and will help to educate the public about the threats to his wild cousins that have caused them to be put on the endangered species list in some states here in the U.S.  He will need to be handled by, and fly around humans every day.  That is why we want Cupid to not have fear of humans. 
During the earliest days, Cupid--then known as #43 because of its band number--was hand fed, mostly by Roger Wallace.  By the time he turned 30 days old, he had gained enough body mass that he could maintain body temperature outside the brooder box.  At that point I put a carpet square in a small crate, gently placed him inside it, and took him to my apartment.  I felt a little nervous when I first began to take care of him; I had never raised baby barn owls before.  But Cupid responded well when I began to feed him. 
I love watching Cupid grow and change every day.  He spends his days in an owl playpen we built in half of an empty mew in the Educational Training Center.  That way he can get used to the pace and sounds of human activity.  In the evenings I allow Cupid free run of my apartment.  He normally tries to seek out little hiding places, such as behind the couch or under the desk.  I don’t allow him to hide for very long, because the whole point of his spending time in my apartment is to become accustomed to humans.  Even though I know he doesn’t understand, I spend a lot of time talking to him, and he just stares back and “chitters” at me. When I am ready to sleep, I just place Cupid’s crate on the floor and he runs right into it!  He knows which crate belongs to him, even when given the opportunity to go into more than one. 
Cupid has already made his public debut at World Eagle Day.  His next big step will be in April when he will travel with me to Milwaukee to continue his Education Bird training at our Milwaukee County Zoo bird show.  There he will become used to the routines of the day, his equipment and the commotion of the crowds at the zoo.
I am really enjoying the opportunity to help “Clever Cupid” to become a comfortable and proficient Barn Owl Education Ambassador.  After all, how often do you get the opportunity to be a foster mom to a Barn Owl?

Submitted by Leah Sainz, Naturalist/Trainer

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