Aviary's owlet ready to meet the public

Hatched  at a weight of one ounce 17 days ago, the National Aviary’s newest Eurasian eagle owl is now 12 ounces of fuzzy, fluffy beige down interspersed with the beginnings of tiny feathers.

With big brown eyes wide open, he was ready today for some close-up photographs, chirping and spreading his wings  and calmly cuddling in the arms of a reporter and a cameraman who were allowed to hold and pet him.

Starting today he’s ready for such close encounters with members of the public who have been watching him grow up behind a window of the veterinary annex at the North Side bird zoo.

He’s being fed and hand-raised by people to be an “education animal” and an ambassador for his species, explained Cathy Schlott, the aviary’s curator of behavioral management and education.

“We can actually get the public in on the action. We need him to get used to different people and different settings,” she said. 

From today through March 26, people who pay $75 will get a private Baby Owl Encounter, which includes holding him.

“You hold him like a puppy, supporting his feet,” she told the reporter and photographer. The owlet snuggled against their chests. It was calm and seemed content. His beak gently probed the fingers of people, looking for food, Ms. Schlott said.

Aviary staff refer to the owlet as “he” even though the sex won’t be known until DNA tests can be done on feathers or blood.

Baby Owl Encounters will end when he’s full-grown at eight weeks old. His eyes will be a startling shade of bright orange, like his parents “X” and “Dumbledore,” who live in an outside exhibit near the chick’s window.

Eurasian eagle owls are one of the largest species of owls, with 6 1/2-foot wingspans and weighing six to 10 pounds. Found throughout Europe, Asia and North Africa, they are neither endangered nor threatened in the wild, but few facilities breed them.

This is the fifth Eurasian eagle owl hatched at the National Aviary, and there is a waiting list of facilities that want him as an education animal, so he’ll be going to one of them in the spring. 

People who are interested can call 412-258-9445 to register for a Baby Owl Encounter.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1953.