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Also read the August 20, 2020 Gainesville Times article, Meet Chewy the Great Horned Owl

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Elachee Welcomes New Winged Ambassador to the Nature Center

August 3, 2020 (Gainesville, Ga.) – Elachee Nature Science Center has announced the addition of a Great Horned Owl (Bufo virginianus) to the live animal exhibit, opening its campus to another rehabilitated bird of prey. The bird has spent the last seven years at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), after being injured and rehabilitated in 2013. Blind in one eye, this friendly owl is now settling into his new home in Elachee’s outdoor aviary. Elachee welcomes a non-releasable Great Horned Owl to the Nature Center's live animal exhibit.

Elachee friends and the community at large were dismayed and outraged when the Nature Center’s aviary was vandalized in mid-April, https://www.elachee.org/vandals-release-red-tailed-hawk. The consequence of that unlawful act resulted in the resident Red-tailed Hawk leaving the aviary.

Unfortunately, this hawk was considered non-releasable due to a permanent injury that left her blind in one eye and vulnerable in the wild. News of this crime spread like wildfire through social media. Although there were numerous sightings in the days and weeks after her release, this beautiful creature has not yet been found. The hope is she has adapted to her limitations and is surviving somewhere in the area.

Seeking to Fill the Void

When Elachee’s Director of Education Peter Gordon put out the word among raptor rehabilitators around the state that the Nature Center was seeking a new winged resident, little did he know that this Great Horned Owl was ready to move to a more permanent situation. 

The owl was originally injured in an auto accident, causing severe damage to his left eye. DNR Wildlife Specialist Berkeley Boone said during the transfer process from Georgia DNR to Elachee, “The [owl’s] eyeball itself is intact, but has rotated inward toward his beak, about 90 degrees or so. Due to these concerns, he was deemed non-releasable because the eye trauma affects his depth perception and therefore his ability to fly and hunt successfully.”

What the Great Horned Owl Can Teach Us Elachee Director of Education Peter Gordon shares details about the Great Horned Owl with Camp Elachee 2020 participants in late July.

As the largest owl in Georgia, the Great Horned Owl is a legendary predator that uses its incredible eyesight, sensitive hearing, soft flight feathers and powerful talons to catch and eat a large variety of animals that share its native habitat. Great Horned Owls are found in every county in Georgia, making this animal’s presence at the Nature Center an invaluable tool to teach school-age students and the public about prey-predator relationships in the wild.

Elachee is home to a wide variety of live animal ambassadors that aid instructors in educating children, families and nature lovers on the creatures that call the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve home. The teaching potential alone is something the Elachee instruction team looks forward to, as many people are not typically able to see owls during the daytime, as they are primarily nocturnal hunters. While this Great Horned Owl is a male and therefore smaller than a female would be, it is a remarkable animal to behold and recognize as such a vital part to our native ecosystem.

“As it is outlined in the DNR Wildlife Resource Division’s mission statement, we promote education about wildlife resources and having this bird on display for Elachee visitors is a great way to foster that education aspect,” shares Boone. “It is important to be able to show visitors species that they can see in their backyards and neighborhoods, particularly ones that they may hear but not have gotten to see in person.  Getting to see a live animal develops a deeper connection to the species than seeing one in a picture or a video.” Each year, children flock to Elachee's live animal exhibit when on field trips to the Nature Center, during Camp Elachee and when visiting during a live animal demonstration.

Tens of thousands of school children historically visit the Nature Center each year on field trips, during Camp Elachee summer day camps or with their families. Now, as a part of those visits, they will be able to learn how the Great Horned Owl is one of the premier apex predators, meaning that nothing native hunts it in the wild. The exception is in cases of the very young falling prey to larger mammal predators such as foxes or coyotes. Of note, this owl will actively hunt over 500 different species depending on its territory, allowing it to have the most varied diet of all North American raptors.

The Great Horned Owl, like all raptors, is federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, most notable for protecting the Bald Eagle. While these protections are paramount, the Elachee team has taken additional security steps to ensure the raptor’s well-being. It is important to reiterate that the release of this Great Horned Owl would likely be a death sentence, since the bird’s blindness prevents him from being able to fly or hunt effectively.

A Place to Call Home

“The owl seems to be settling in well, eating regularly and bathing itself, while exploring its new home,” shares Gordon. “He is truly an outstanding addition to the Nature Center, as his wide variety of adaptations should be tremendously popular with visitors.”

Gordon is confident that the owl will be content in this new Elachee home. He and his team are hard at work enhancing the outdoor aviary, making it a prime habitat for the Great Horned Owl. This includes adding new enrichment activities and establishing the raptor’s feeding schedule. Elachee hosts a Live Animal Demonstration with paid admission to the Nature Center each Saturday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Plan your visit to Elachee Nature Science Center to witness the Great Horned Owl and learn more about the other creatures who call Elachee home. Check admission hours at www.elachee.org. Each Saturday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., an Elachee Naturalist conducts a Live Animal Demonstration, featuring resident creature ambassadors in the Nature Center’s live animal exhibit. This program and access to Elachee’s live animal exhibits are available as part of the admission fee.