HARVARD — Marcia Wilson, of “Eyes on Owls,” brought her feathered friends to meet the second-graders at Harvard Elementary School.
The program started with a fact-packed slide show about habits and habitat. It segued to interactive introductions and ended with questions and comments.
After wrapping up a unit on owls that included dissecting owl pellets to see what they eat, the students wanted to know more about these birds of prey.
Owls move into holes in trees after other creatures move out. Droppings or bones are tell-tale signs.
Savvy in owl-speak, Wilson mimicked whoos, whinnies, clicks, cackles and whistles. The barred owl, for instance, sounds like it’s saying “who cooks for you” in eight notes, but may skip a few.
Wilson even wears owl-centric clothes, from practical items such as a falconer’s glove to whimsical accessories.
She developed a passion for birds as a child and went on to become an owl expert. Now she runs a business with her husband conducting show-and-tell presentations on the road and at their home where the owls live in big, outdoor cages.
Most of Wilson’s owls are disabled, rescued owls.
“That’s how I get to have them. It’s a condition ” said Wilson. “They couldn’t live in the wild.”
Owl-keepers in Massachusetts must have a license and follow “strict rules,” she said.
Her tiny 7-year-old “Saw-whet” owl, named for its call, was rescued as a baby and taken to a wildlife park.
“We adopted him,” she said.
Her Eastern Screech owl, which sometimes whinnies like a tiny horse, is blind in one eye. The barred owl is also missing a wing. Hit by a vehicle on a New Hampshire road, it was taken to an animal hospital where the wing was amputated.
“She can’t fly,” said Wilson. The owl weighs two pounds but looks larger due to thick feathers. The male is smaller, Wilson said, about one pound.
Her 4-year-old Great-horned owl is three to four pounds with a four-foot wingspan. Blind in one eye, this female was found on the ground at Mt. Wachusett.
“She could live into her 30s or 40s, said Wilson. Noting furry white feet, she said the covering isn’t fur, but feathers. Almost all these owls wear “down underwear,” she said, noting a winter-thick growth of fluffy white feathers peeking out beneath their bodies.
The snowy owl is native to the arctic tundra. Hers is eight years old.
“We raised him,” said Wilson. It’s cry is a hoarse “whoof,” but it cackles, too. Its thick, snow-white feathers lie smooth, like a pelt. Dark spots on the wings blend with the landscape. Facial discs, darkly etched on other owls, don’t show on the helmet-like head of this regal bird, which weighs about five-and-a-half to six pounds.
“This owl is like Hedwig,” said Wilson, noting the fictional Harry Potter’s messenger owl.
The largest in the group is the Eurasian Eagle Owl, which came out hissing. It looked fierce, standing on Wilson’s arm, talons curled over her glove, long legs stretched, flexing five-foot wings. Tall ear tufts look like plumes. Puffing out its pouch, it gives a deep whoo.
“He hoots all night,” she said. Its local relative is the Great-horned owl.
This traveling group used to include a 7-year-old barn owl, but its arthritis was so painful “we had her put to sleep,” Wilson said. She had a good life, she said, as do other disabled owls we keep. Some have handicapped-accessible cages. Those that can’t fly have ramps to get to their water dishes, she said.
“Eyes on Owls” has been presented throughout the region including Acton, Groton and Dunstable. It will be coming to the Hazen Memorial Library in Shirley in March.