Superb Owls Saturday

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“This time of year is good to talk about owls, especially here in Iowa,” said Harrison County Naturalist Connie Betts.

“They’re actually going to pair up and mate, and some will have their nests and their eggs by mid-February.”

At the Harrison County Conservation Board’s “Superb Owls” event at 2 p.m. on Saturday, February 11, Betts will talk about owls and she will lead several activities.

Superb Owls takes place the day before a football game with a similar name.

The owl event will take place at the Harrison County Iowa Welcome Center on Highway 30 north of Missouri Valley.

“We’ll talk about the owls we have in Iowa; we have some that are residential and we have some that migrate through,” Betts said.

“We’ll listen to their sounds, their calls, and I have owl parts we’ll look at; wings and talons. You’ll get to look at those and feel them.”

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Because owls are nocturnal, many people may have heard their calls but never seen one.

“It’s fun to learn about what they do,” she said.

Betts said the most interesting part of the program will be the dissection of owl pellets.

“Owls eat their food whole, either a mouse or something else, and what isn’t digested (bones, feathers, etc.) comes into their throat and forms a pellet, a hard little ball, and then they spit it up,” Betts said. “It’s basically to save energy; there’s no reason to try to digest all that stuff when it doesn’t give them anything.”

Participants in the Superb Owls program will get to take real owl pellets apart to see what an owl had for dinner.

“When you start pulling them apart, you’ll find the bones of what they ate,” she said.

Depending on the owl, the pellet may contain a wide variety of remains.

“If it’s a barred owl, they will literally eat almost anything,” Betts said. “They will eat fish, salamanders, snakes, other birds; all kinds of different things. But if it’s a screech owl, they mostly eat mice and sometimes bugs. We have found bugs and grasshopper legs in pellets.”

Betts has been a naturalist for more than 25 years; she said she loves doing the owl program and has a wealth of knowledge of the subject.

“It’s a fun program – all ages love doing it,” she said.

Betts noted that she does not have to go out to find owl pellets for the program.

“If I did, that’s all I would do because I do this program so much,” she said.

Betts orders pellets from a company that gets most of their supply from zoos and nature centers that have captive owls.

She will also lead an activity in which participants will make owl-themed Valentine’s Day cards to take home.

No registration is required for the Superb Owls event and there is no fee.

Participants will receive a free bag of candy.

For more information, contact the Harrison County Conservation Board at 712-647-2785.

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