By owl accounts, it was a hoot.
More than a dozen families crowded into Houston’s International Owl Center on Friday for a child-geared presentation on the great-winged birds — part of the center’s festivities on International Owl Awareness Day.
“I like how soft their feathers are and how nice they are when they’re trained,” said Coraline Fowler, 7, who lives in Levelland, Texas. “They’re probably my second-favorite animal, after eagles.”
Coraline and others probably learned more about owls than they’ll ever need to know: that their wings are near-silent in flight, that female owls can grow much larger than male owls, and that neither the males nor the females, as it turns out, are particularly wise.
Jo Severson, an educator at the Owl Center, also told the crowd how they can protect owl populations by using mouse traps instead of rodent poison, taking down unnecessary barbed wire fencing, and abstaining from throwing apple cores and banana peels onto the side of the road.
“A lot of owls get hit by cars,” said Severson, who believes Rusty, one of the center’s great-horned owls, was injured this way during his time in the wild.
“Owls have less peripheral vision than we do, and it takes them awhile to take off,” Severson explained.
During the presentation, children occasionally popped up from their seats to grab a plush stuffed owl, an owl-themed cookie, or both.
Little hands shot into the air whenever Severson asked a question or needed a volunteer.
And, with a little direction, the children hooted and screeched like various owls — one boy even jumped to his feet and began flapping imaginary wings.
“I think my favorites are barn owls,” Coraline said. “Their faces are sort of shaped like a heart. I think they’re really cute.”
Severson kept the kids busy with a quiz show, calling them to the front of the room to answer questions about owls. They even got to examine owl feathers and owl pellets during bonus rounds.
Then it was time for the main attraction.
Severson pulled on a long black glove, corralled a great horned owl named Ruby, and began showing the owl to curious onlookers.
“She doesn’t like to look at cameras,” Severson said as Ruby, quickly spotting the sea of lenses, twisted away her swiveling head.
Uhu was feeling even less gregarious.
Shortly after Severson began carrying the Eurasian eagle-owl around the room, Uhu ascended into the air — a flash of fluttering brown — and darted back to her tucked-away perch.
A few children returned to the stuffed animal pile; at least those owls wouldn’t be flying away.
Uhu had a reason to be shy. Her self-esteem might have been shattered earlier in the morning.
Severson told the crowd that Eurasian eagle-owls like Uhu are some of the largest owls in the world — then asked the crowd to guess how much Uhu, a roughly five-pound bird, actually weighs.
“Two-hundred pounds,” one boy said.
That was a little off, Severson told him.
“Four-hundred?” a second boy tried.