Meet zoo's newest owlets: Skylar and Conner
June 12, 2012 at 1:12 a.m.
Updated June 13, 2012 at 1:13 a.m.
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."