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Meet zoo's newest owlets: Skylar and Conner

By Gheni_Platenburg
June 12, 2012 at 1:12 a.m.
Updated June 13, 2012 at 1:13 a.m.

Zoo officials have decided to name the young owlets Skylar and Conner after hearing many suggestions from the community.

EASTERN SCREECH OWL FACTS

• ALSO KNOWN AS: Otus Asio or Megascops Asio

MEASUREMENTS: Has an average body length of 7-9 inches, a wingspan of 18-24 inches, and weighs 5-9 ounces. It is slightly smaller than the Western screech owl.

• HABITAT: Found in wooded areas from 3,000 feet to river valleys and city parks. They occupy the United States east of the Rocky Mountains and northeastern Mexico.

• DIET: Diet consists mainly of insects, small mammals, birds, crayfish and earthworms. Their hunting strategy is to survey prey from a perched position then swoop down to catch the prey, or forage while walking along the ground.

REPRODUCTION: Nests in natural tree cavities, old woodpecker holes or man-made nest boxes. The female lays three to seven eggs that are incubated for 26 days. Both parents feed the young owls. The owlets will leave the nest in about 25-27 days, but will be tended by the parents for another five to six weeks. Can reproduce at one year of age.

NAME DERIVATION: The scientific name comes from the Latin words otus, meaning a kind of owl with long "ear" feathers, and asio, a word used by the Greek philosopher Pliny to specify a horned owl. The common name indicates the bird's range in North America. Eastern screech owls have also been known as common screech owl, little owl, scritch owl, little horned owl, little grey owl and red owl.

BEHAVIOR: Its hunting is mostly nocturnal but often crepuscular and occasionally diurnal. Its whinnying and trilling songs are familiar, but its vocalizations also include rasps, barks, hoots, chuckles and screeches. It is named for its surprising call, which can sound like a crying child.

OTHER INTERESTING FACTS:

• The Eastern Screech-Owl's color ranges from gray to brown to reddish. The chicks in a nest may be different colors.

• Dead tree snags are important to cavity nesters like screech-owls.

• Eastern Screech Owls are the smallest "tufted" owl in the Eastern United States.

• Eastern Screech Owls are almost entirely nocturnal, unlike other owls that are sometimes active during the day.

• Eastern Screech owls have been known to dive bomb humans who get to close to their nests.

• They have special feathers, which buffer sound; thus making them silent flyers.

• Sources: peregrinefund.org/subsites/explore-raptors-2001/ owls/escreech.htmlchattanoogaanc.org/www/docs/110.223Michael Magaw, animal curator at the Texas Zoo

OWL NAME SUGGESTIONS

Skylar and Solara

Picasso and Van Gogh

Otus and Tyto

Bippidy & Boppidy Who (Who is the last name :)

Will and T. Michael

Soren and Skylar

Vic and Tori

Boo and Hoo

Owlie and Owlivia

Hoodini and Horton

Winken and Blinken

Hoover and Screech

Owlbert Einstien and Owlivia Newton John

Shriek and Fiona

Fallon and Tallon

Bellow and Yowl

Who and What

East & West

Boots and Coots!

kitzu and kotzu

Tom and Jerry

Owlbert an bowls 2d

Whootie and whooter, whootie and who

Whoot and annie

Pete and Repeat (RePete)

Itchy and scratchy :)

gunther and tolbert!!

Screetch and Zak

Ben and jerry

Al and Pal

whootie & blowfish

Emerson and Einstein

Hoot & Who

Owllie and beebo

Boo Hoo

Harry and Potter

Hoot and Holler

Wynken and Blynken

Amos and Andy

Click and Clack

Athena and Hermes

Boots and Coots

Whispers and Watcher

Beaker and Squeaker

Soren and Gylfie

Scooter and Skeeter

Screeches and Hooty

Boot and Scoot

Benny and Joon

Shadow and Shade

Screethches and Peaches

Jet and Lag

Rainy and Thunder

Fluke and Flake

Raisin and Fig

Heckle and Jeckle

Ashes and Soot

Screech and Scrong

Lenny and Squiggy

Frankie and Johnnie

Rock and Roll

Roy and Dale

Night and Day

Lewis and Martin

Neil and Bob

Umi and Oliver

Scholar and Swoops

Tootsie and Pop

Percy and Bill

Rowan and Sky

To see the vote totals for the final five names, click this link

www.victoriaadvocate.com/polls/2012/may/which-set-owlette-names-do-you/results/

The day Gerd Conner died, his stepdaughter and granddaughter saw a white owl.

Mary Kay Wood and her daughter Millie were driving home when the owl flew directly in front of them for about a half a block before it finally flew into the trees.

Not a particularly superstitious person, she did recall the omen that seeing a white owl flying during the daytime usually meant death.

Even when she received news later that night that her 60-year-old stepfather had passed away, Wood still chalked it up to just coincidence.

But when she came across the Victoria Advocate's article about the Texas Zoo hoping to engage the community in naming their new Eastern Screech owlets, she did begin to reconsider her owl encounter nearly a year earlier.

In memory of her stepfather, who she described as a longtime Boy Scout leader who never met anyone he didn't like, she entered the name Conner into the contest.

"It drew my attention that maybe that's why we saw the owl because one of them was supposed to be named Conner," she continued.

Victoria Advocate readers selected Skylar and Conner as the winning names, receiving 144 out of 252 votes.

"Before then, I never gave much thought to owls. You never see them," said Wood. "But they will forever hold special meaning for me now."

Other names suggested by readers during the "Name Those Owls" contest included Will and T. Michael, Shadow and Shade, Athena and Hermes and Fallon and Talon.

"Thank you to the community for being involved," Andrea Blomberg, executive director of the Texas Zoo, said about the name submissions. "We're very pleased with the names that were chosen."

Skylar and Conner, as well as their three siblings, were dropped off at the zoo in late April after their home, a large dead tree, was cut down by landscapers, leaving their parents unable to find them.

The owlets' arrival at the zoo provided staffers with a needed distraction, as the zoo's longtime screech owl, Beaker, had died of complications related to old age the day after the baby owls arrived.

While the zoo donated three of the owlets to the Gulf Coast Wildlife rehabbers in Bay City, they kept Skylar and Conner for education purposes.

Known before only by the colors of their anklets - tan and black - the now 5-month-old owls are adjusting to life in the public eye.

The screech owls, whose genders remain unknown, joined the ranks of the zoo's two great horned owls and two barred owls.

They were released from quarantine about mid-May and put on public display, mostly through educational programs.

"He's the first one to let me know he's hungry," zoo animal keeper Colton Fischer said about Skylar's distinguishing behavior as he held tight to Skylar's jess. "He likes to fly more and has more of an attitude."

Weighing in at about 150 grams, the owls are almost full grown, fully flighted and are still in the process of shedding their fuzzy, juvenile feathers.

Meanwhile, Conner, the quieter one, has more of a calm demeanor.

Trainers interact with the birds at least twice a day, providing them with obedience training as well as helping them to get used to socializing with humans.

Caring for the little birds has been an interesting opportunity, said Fischer, who has primarily worked with older birds.

"The basic care is all the same" he said. "But it's important to earn their trust. Not just with me, but with all the other trainers, too."

The birds made their first big public debut on June 8 during Region 3 Day at the zoo, as Fischer and another trainer escorted the owlets around the menagerie to meet zoo visitors.

"I've heard them in East Texas. They scream like a woman, but they are tiny, so you don't see them," said Brenda O'Bannion, director of student support for Region 3. "They are darling. They definitely have their own personalities. You can tell by watching them."

The well-behaved baby birds were a hoot among adults and kids alike, as evidenced by the flurry of cellular phone cameras going off as the birds made their way around the zoo.

"I am 61, and I've never seen an owl that small," said Victoria resident Barbara Smith. "It's a very good learning experience for (my granddaughter)."

"They have big eyes," said Abbie Migl, Smith's granddaughter.

Her friend agreed.

"They were really cute because they are babies," said Isabella Martinez, 9, of Victoria.

In the future, the owlets are expected to participate in popular events like the recently resurrected Owl Prowl, an interactive event where participants learn more about owls by getting up close and personal.

"Naming the owls makes people have an instant connection to them," said Amanda Rocha, program director at the zoo. "Now that people are completely invested in these owls, they will be more aware of them in public and they will come to the zoo to see these owls."

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