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Local students learn owls' mysteries
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Martin presents a poster of different owls to the students. - photo by JIM MISUNAS Great Bend Tribune

Three of Darcy Rhodes’ children were old enough to appreciate the beauty and mystery of the Masters of the Sky called owls Saturday at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center.
Marin, 11; Lillian, 8; and Noelle, 4; will be share stories with their younger brothers about Thurston, the Great Horned Owl from the Brit Spaugh Zoo; and Archie, a  Spotted Owl, from the zoo. Darcy deserves Mother of the Year honors for offering all five of her children a learning opportunity.
The program was designed for children 6 to 12, but Addison Moore, 3, was escorted by her grandmother Karen Winkelman.
Thurston drew the youngsters’ interest by hooting his mating call to start a presentation by Pam Martin, Kansas Department of Wildlife and parks educator. Thurston, on his best behavior, gave the youngsters a good show by turning upside down a few times.
“Archie” the little red-colored Eastern screech owl, is permitted through the Fish and Wildlife Service for KWEC and resides at the Center, not the Zoo. He was brought to Eagle Valley Raptor Center last spring, after someone found him on the ground blown from his nest by a tornado. Because he became too attached to humans, he was deemed unreleasable to the wild.
Archie showed anxiety through his ruffled ear tufts since Great Horned Owls prey on screech owls. But Archie’s best trick was turning his head 270 degrees to look in virtually any direction through extra bones in their neck. Archie was removed from his nest from a Sedgwick County tornado and has grown accustomed to being taken care by zookeepers.
“They can move their heads all the way around,” Martin said. “You can see why that this would freak people out.”
Seven species of owls regularly visit Cheyenne Bottoms. This past winter there were three snowy owls spotted at the Bottoms. They are a rare winter visitor, appearing when prey conditions change in the Arctic, where they normally reside, prompting them to migrate southward.
Barn owls can live 15 to 20 years in captivity while Screech Owls have a shorten live span.
Martin explained that owls see 50 times better than people and hear 10 times better than a person. A owl’s binocular night vision is particularly keen, which she demonstrated in a dimly-lit room.
A barn owl, with two ears that are separated, can hear a mouse moving under the snow.
“A barn owl can hear the heartbeat of a mouse under three feet of snow,” she said. “An owl can pinpoint exactly where a mouse is and swoop it and grab it.”
The owls possess unique feathers that don’t contain excess oil. It gives owls a wet-cat look when they get wet.
Martin explained some folklore and myths about owls.
Students dissected owl pellets, as a special part of the day. Owls’ prey include insects, pocket gophers, rats, moles, mice and shrews.
Owl pellets, which contain undigested bones and fur, are actually coughed up through the owl’s throat like a cat’s hair balls. Since bones from critters owls eat are not broken down in the consumption process, students could pick apart the droppings and possibly determine what the owl ate for dinner. Part of the youngsters’ task was to identity what type of bone the owl system could not digest.