Extraordinary Owls at the National Aviary

The National Aviary is part of what makes Pittsburgh so unique. Check out "Extraordinary Owls" while you can!

Verrauex Owl Habitat

I have loved owls since I was a young child and spotted one spending a great deal of time at the top of the tall evergreen tree in my backyard. At night, I would hear it call outside my bedroom window and it was wild, magical and haunting all at the same time.  Recently, owls have been enjoying their day in the sun (which is ironic because most of them are nocturnal) and have seen a surge in popularity. When I had the opportunity to revisit my childhood love of owls through the “Extraordinary Owls” exhibit at the National Aviary, I found even more to love than I expected.

First, I went on an Indoor Owl Prowl which is an interactive daily program led by the National Aviary’s Ornithologist, Bob Mulvihill. A large group of visitors gathered to learn in-depth facts about the different species of owls. I am shocked at how much I learned during this 30 minute guided tour – you’re welcome in advance for the owl fun facts that I’ll share throughout this post! For example: Did you know that owls’ ears are located behind their eyes, and that their faces have distinct disc shapes to them to naturally direct sound waves into their ears? This would be similar to you walking around cupping your hands behind your ears all day. So cool!

Owls are wonderful birds with fascinating traits, and for a limited time we’re able to offer guests of all ages the chance to see them up-close and learn about them during interactive daily programs.

Executive Director Cheryl Tracy
Jamie Travitz, Education Trainer

Owls are really fascinating creatures. One of the reasons that humans find them so compelling is because they have “human-like” faces – with forward facing eyes similar to humans, and unlike most birds of prey that have eyes on the sides of their heads. Interestingly, owls’ eyes are tubular instead of round like ours, which means that they are unable to rotate their eyes in the socket like we do. Instead, owls are able to rotate their heads around 270 degrees, and have 14 vertebrae in their necks to support this movement, while humans only have 7.

After the owl prowl ended, I grabbed lunch at the café, checked out the rest of the Aviary, and did some souvenir shopping at the beautiful gift store. I was biding my time until my 3 pm interactive owl encounter. Have you ever wanted to hold an owl, analyze their feather structure, take pictures, and dissect an owl pellet? Your answer should definitely be “yes”, because it was ALL amazingly fun and informative. I even found a complete vole skull in my pellet! 

Dumbledore the owl and I

Thanks to my interactive owl encounter at the National Aviary, I can tell you exactly what it’s like to stare into the eyes of Dumbledore the Eurasian Eagle Owl. His distinctive and striking bright orange eyes made a strong impression on me. His long talons clung to my gloved arm, and I could feel the power in his muscles. Eurasian Eagle Owls are one of the largest living species of owl. Despite his appearance, he was much lighter than he looked. One fascinating thing I learned is that Dumbledore is extremely farsighted and does not see well up close. However, he could sit on the top of the Empire State Building and see an ant on the sidewalk. Wow! 

The amazing passion that the National Aviary staff has for the owls and all their creatures lends even more excitement to the time you spend at the facility, knowing that the animals are well cared for and protected. Make sure you get to the National Aviary while the Extraordinary Owl exhibit is open (Oct 1 – spring of 2018) so you can see five different types of owls including:

  • Verreaux’s Eagle Owl
  • White-faced Scops Owl
  • Barred Owl
  • Snowy Owl
  • Burrowing Owls (who only live in open dry areas. Interestingly, they do not make their own homes but instead burrow underground in habitats vacated by other animals such as prairie dogs.)

While you’re there, take advantage of the educational and immersive programs. Make sure to join the owl prowls and book a private owl encounter. And, if you have a kiddo bring them on October 28 from 11-3 for “Owl-o-Ween”, the National Aviary’s annual harvest festival! Wear your costume and come prepared for candy, crafts, and more. They can enjoy close encounters and perfect photo opportunities with raptors, owls and other creatures of the night.