Cathy Schlott’s fingers are covered in blood, but she doesn’t seem concerned or put off by it. She’s feeding Anne, a 4-pound adult barred owl, which are common in Pennsylvania.
“She gets lots of treats for this,” said Schlott, curator of animal behavioral management at the aviary, while holding Anne, who’s perched on her arm.
She’s feeding her “meeces pieces,” or chunks of raw meat.
Anne was joined by Dumbledore, a hulking rust-colored eagle owl with glowing orange eyes, and Cypress, a petite half-pound screech owl so adorable that someone once tried to make a house pet. Because of this, Cypress never learned to hunt and has to rely on humans for food.
“Harry Potter did great things for owls, because everyone got to see owls and got to appreciate them,” Schlott said. “But owls are not meant to be cute and cuddly.”
As animal ambassadors for the National Aviary, the owls will be featured in education programing and community events.
The trio of owls are among several new species now on display at the aviary. It’s also recently added the verreaux’s eagle owl, a large predator native to Africa; the barred owl and the white-faced scops owl.
These new species join the aviary’s cold weather-loving snowy owl and its burrowing owls.
To launch its owl additions, the aviary is also hosting some new fall programs.
Through the spring, visitors can tour the owl exhibits with a staff member daily at 12:30 p.m. to learn more about the birds.
Those feeling up for a hike, or owl prowl, can tour North Park, Settlers Cabin Park or the Frick Park on various dates in October and November with aviary ornithologist Bob Mulvihill to seek out owls in the wild.
And Sunday, Oct. 15, the aviary will offer an owl brunch, including food catered by Atria’s and “special visits by extraordinary owls.”
And although some people might associate owls with autumn, Mulvihill says there’s really no strong connection between the large-eyed birds and pumpkin spice latte season – other than Halloween.
“It is true that owls might become just a little more obvious to people in the fall because the leaves come off the trees and maybe people, if they’re going to see an owl, are going to have a better chance to see them when the leaves are off the trees,” he said.