By Lauren Adams,
Lead Wildlife Keeper
Lead Wildlife Keeper
You can hear him even before you get inside the building. Each day he greets us with the characteristic “Hoothoot Hoot Hoot.”
we reply going about our daily tasks. It
is easy to take for granted a friendly conversation with one of the most
fearsome predators of the sky, the Great Horned Owl. But this is VINS, where our co-workers might
have feathers and eat mice for dinner, but are no less important to our jobs
than the other humans, and are equally treasured in our hearts.
If I ever forget how amazing it is to be up close and personal with a Great Horned Owl, all I need to do is attend one of our educational programs and observe the joy and awe on the faces of the audience when
emerges on the glove addressing the crowd with his deep voice and majestic
presence. He represents his species magnificently
as an ambassador from the wild, teaching visitors to VINS about raptors, owls,
their habitats and behaviors, their place in their ecosystem, and of course,
Ask anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting him, though, and they will tell you that his best quality was his hoot. From inside his crate, long before you could see him, you could hear him foreshadow the thrill that was yet to come. There was always a buzz of anticipation in the air when
was scheduled to come out, and he never disappointed.
My favorite memory of
was during a program with one of our educators, Nathan. On a busy day in mid-summer, to a fully
packed room, I recall the enchanted giggles of delight as Nathan demonstrated Utah’s call-and-response,
hooting back and forth like they were sharing some private joke, the true
meaning of which, we could only imagine.
On Friday, we said goodbye to one of our most beloved birds and friends.
Utah’s injuries and his age finally got the
better of him, and he passed away, leaving a hole both in our programs and in
our hearts. It is always difficult to
lose a cherished member of our education team here at VINS. It reminds us of the fragility of the existence
of a wild bird, and of how lucky we are to have them touch our lives, even
briefly. It is a little easier, though,
thinking about Utah’s
immeasurable contribution to VINS and the community. In his 16 years of life, he reached
thousands, maybe more.
It will be sad to come in to work each morning and not hear his soulful greeting. But I know how special it was to have heard it at all, and I will never forget the sound.