Post by Anne the Volunteer
Teasdale, our great horned owl, was the second bird I learned to work with. Before working with Teasdale, I had only seen a few great horned owls in the wild, as they are so well camouflaged while spending their days resting in trees. We have occasionally had them in our Russian Olive trees below the house, and when I go down to look at them, they sit as still as they can. I think they are fairly certain that I do not see them.
At the time of my first lessons, Teas was himself in training to become an education bird. Melissa gathered him up and we did the five-step handoff. I held him on my glove for about fifteen minutes. Teasdale weighed one-half pound more than Isham, our red-tailed hawk, and it is amazing how much heavier half a pound can feel! Teasdale bated (tried to fly away) one time, but instead of trying to regain his perch, he just hung upside down from his jesses, which I had grasped in my glove. As I said, he was also in training, and had not yet perfected his ability of returning to my glove in an upright position. I placed my hand on his back and began to lift him. After a small lift, he flapped himself back onto my glove. Then he gripped one of my gloved fingers tightly, and even with the glove, the pinch was becoming more and more painful. Great horned owls have the ability to grip at 500 pounds per square inch, and I could picture my finger bone breaking!
Melissa tried to talk me through how to move my arm so that he would have to change his stance, but he still hung on, gripping even tighter! He had decided he was safest right where he was. Melissa had to resort to prying one toe off my finger, before he readjusted. Looking into Teasdale’s eyes was truly one of the most amazing experiences that I have had. He was so close to me, and his eyes were so big, and so yellow, and as he turned his head and stared up at me, I couldn’t help but to gaze back at him. WOW, a great horned owl on my glove, and look at those eyes! Those are the coolest eyes that I have ever seen. My first day of holding Teasdale on my glove was quite amazing.
Teasdale is a very serious fellow. He is serious about his job of sitting quietly in his mew so as not to expend any energy. If he were still in the wild, he would be serious about his job of sitting still in a tree so that we could not see him. He would also be serious about finding the food that he needs, so that he can continue the job of sitting still. We, of course, have removed this worry from him, as his meals are served up to him on a daily basis. Teasdale is good at what he does as an owl, and a large portion of that job is to simply be sitting still. His personality reminds me of an old man, even though he is only about two and a half years old. Teasdale, except when he bates, usually does very little in fast motion. He prefers to expend as little energy as possible on any activity that there is. Thus he and I came to battle.
Melissa gave me the exciting offer of training Teasdale to fly from my glove to a perch. This would offer him exercise, and hopefully strengthen the muscles in his right wing that had been injured, and slightly droops. My first experience with flying a bird was with Suli, our turkey vulture. A group of us had enticed her to fly from glove to glove, using a food reward. This, however, would be different, I would be the trainer, and Teasdale would only be expected to fly from me to a perch, located about six feet away. For me, having the ability to work with a bird in this way was something that I really wanted to do. For Teasdale it was something he did NOT want to do. Teasdale likes to SIT. Teasdale does NOT like to work. Our first training began on April 10, and when I first went in to pick him up, things were great, but then I took him to the exercise room. Melissa told me to begin by just having him step from my glove to the perch. If he wouldn’t, then just roll my wrist a little until he did. Okay, that went alright. He looked at me a little perturbed, if an owl can look perturbed, but it wasn’t just horrendous.
Melissa told me as he got better at that, just to start stepping a short way back, until I could get him to start flying. If he wouldn’t fly, move my wrist. So that is exactly what I did. Back a little, move my wrist, “GO Teasdale!” And he would go. After a few flights, I would step back a little more. Soon he would leave my glove without the movement of my wrist. I quickly discovered that I needed to learn his moods, as he needed a rest period between each flight, and if I rushed him, he would bate on pick up. As I learned to understand him better, his flying lessons improved, until I could fly him a good six feet from the door to the perch, and I didn’t have to move my wrist, I simply turned my arm toward the perch and said “Go Teasdale,” and he went. In fact he began going before I even wanted him to go, and before my arm was completely in position. So my next step was for him to only go when he was fully presented to the perch. Okay, well and good, if it sounds like he was doing a good job, he was doing a surprisingly good job. He picked up the idea really fast. I was not rewarding Teasdale with food, because Teasdale prefers not to eat in the daytime, or at least not in the middle of the day. Teasdale’s reward was simply to get away from me, the evil redhead. Teasdale you see, had learned to hate me.
I had become the only handler who, when I walked into his mew, he would begin flying away from. He would hop to a perch, fly to a perch, fly to the door, fly to his bars, fly, fly, fly to get away from the evil one who was going to make him WORK! After a while he would always give up, land, usually on his shelf, give me an angry look, and wait. I could then dress him, putting his anklets, jesses, swivel, and leash on, pick him up, and carry him in to do the exercise. He didn’t like the exercise, he didn’t like me, even though he was getting quite good at it. In fact, by June 7, Teas made thirteen perfect flights! Soon after we had to take a break, as Teas was growing in blood feathers, and we did not want him banging them onto the perch, and possibly breaking them. I was interested to see if he would forgive me a little during this off time, or if he was a grudge bearer. He seems to have slightly forgiven me, as instead of flying all over his room, he simply jumps from perch to perch a few times before giving me his grumpy look, and deciding he will put up with me.
Before I became the evil one, the number one enemy of Teas, he used to be the easiest bird for me to pick up. I would walk into his mew, and he would hiss at me, then I would walk up to him, he would be sitting hunched down, with his feet covered by his feathers, and he would let me dress him with only a disdainful look as though to say, “Can’t you just leave me alone?” Still, after lifting a talon onto my glove he would step up. Generally he would stand quietly on my glove with no fuss, although when he does bate he has the worst bate of all our birds, sometimes coming up with his jesses so twisted that you have to work at getting him back to a comfortable stance.
Interestingly, even though Teasdale has learned that I am the evil one, he still sits sedately upon my glove when I take him out into the public. He simply stands, he does not seem interested in much that goes on around him. Sometimes, however, he does lean really close, it makes me want to put my arm around him and give him a hug, as though he were some kind of a stuffed toy. But really, he is just thinking about getting closer to the tree, which at that moment I have become. For the time being, he has forgotten that I am the evil one, and maybe this strange tree (me) can help to hide him from view. He may turn his head slowly and look at me, his eyes staring up into mine, I can’t help but wonder what is going on in that head of his. Then he will slowly look away, sometimes turning his head to peer behind him, then continuing to turn his head so that he is looking over his other shoulder.
Great-horned owls can turn their heads 270 degrees. This is not only useful, as their eyes are fixed in their sockets, but also a cool party trick! Not that Teas is a party animal, far from it, although when two of our volunteers were married, he did help out at their wedding. I just bet he performed his cool head move.
Although Teasdale reminds me of a stolid old man, he does have a bit of frivolity, which he makes sure to hide from us. After all Teasdale does not want to appear anything but serious, and disapproving of all that goes on around him. Still there is the telephone book. Yes, telephone book. Melissa has given a number of our birds telephone books to use as play objects. Although he dutifully ignores the book when anyone is present, evidence of the torn book proves that Teas has a side to him that we never see. Come on Teas! Show us the little boy hiding inside you.
Question from Visitors:
Will owls eat dogs and cats?
Great horned owl’s prey ranges from small to medium sized animals, including skunks, (they can’t smell them) and yes, sometimes great horned owls do catch cats and small dogs, but not on a regular basis or on a preferential basis, according to the http://www.owlpages.com
“In Arizona, coyotes kill many more pets than great horned owls.” Still, if you have a small dog or cat, and a great-horned owl is hanging out in a near-by tree, I would recommend that you do not give your pet unsupervised, unleashed, outings.