Sunday, November 9, 2014

Growing Up Around Goblin

Working and volunteering at the World Bird Sanctuary has many commonly mentioned benefits: such as being able to experience things not many other people can, working with a bunch of truly dedicated people who love what they do, and watching those people share their love of animals with other people.

 Goblin still wearing some of his baby down feathers at 55 days old (photo: Gay Schroer)
 One of the great things about being a long-time volunteer is that you cannot only have more of these experiences, but if timed correctly, you can watch birds grow older and mature as you spend more time around them.   In June 2008 I started volunteering at the Nature Center, which was a couple of months after an American Barn Owl had hatched at WBS and was placed on falconry equipment (anklets and jesses that us handlers use for our education raptors).   This Barn Owl's name is Goblin, and he quickly became my favorite Barn Owl.

 Goblin at 55 days old - Wing stretching (photo: Gay Schroer)
Young Barn Owls have many adorable behaviors that range from simple stretches of their wings or legs to a behavior that has been dubbed “head bobbing”.   Head bobbing helps the young owls focus on sounds and determine where they're coming from.   Just imagine a small Barn Owl, who could look something like Goblin here, facing you on his perch.   Suddenly, he turns his head so that he's looking upside-down at you and starts bobbing his head up and down while staring straight at you.  If this mental image wasn't enough, go on YouTube and search for “baby Barn Owl head bobbing”, and you'll quickly see what I mean.

Goblin just after being put on equipment_65 days old (Photo: Gay Schroer) 
During my first few years of volunteering I was considered a Junior Volunteer and was not old enough to handle the birds (a volunteer cannot actually handle the birds until they are 16).  I had to be content with standing on the weathering area deck and watching Goblin for 5 or 10 minutes at a time.

As I got older and gained more experience, I was finally able to start handling Goblin, who had become a favorite of most of the staff at the Nature Center.  He easily lived up to and exceeded the expectations of this 16 year old.  Since I hadn't yet handled the birds at the Nature Center I didn't really know what to expect.  Almost immediately, I understood why naturalists at the Nature Center loved working with Goblin — he's a wonderful flyer!

Goblin performing in an Animal Encounter (Photo: Matt Levin) 
This past summer, I happened to stop by the Nature Center in time to watch one of the Amazing Animal Encounters.  These are free weekend programs that run from Memorial Day to Labor Day and normally have 5 or 6 animals (mostly birds).  These mini programs are a really good chance to see the birds in action while being in a relatively small crowd.  So there I was, sitting in the audience, when I heard the words “Barn Owl”, and who should I see flying from trainer to trainer but my favorite Barn Owl, Goblin, who I hadn't seen in a year or two!

Goblin has come a long way in what feels like 6 very short years, and I look forward to working with him in the years to come!

Submitted by Matt Levin, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer

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