Brookfield Zoo animal spotlight: Athena, great horned owl

We’ve got a new bi-monthly feature here called the “Brookfield Zoo animal spotlight.” Each time, we will feature one (or more) of Brookfield Zoo’s animals and give you some background information about the animal(s), its species, its family and its connection to the zoo!

Birth date: 2009 or before

How long she has been at Brookfield Zoo: She arrived in 2010

Q. Give us a bit of background on Athena.

A. Athena came to Brookfield Zoo from Zoo Montana, which rehabbed her after she was found on the side of the road. An oncoming vehicle hit her while she was attempting to eat roadkill. Zoo Montana did an excellent job with her rehabilitation. Unfortunately, though, her wings never completely healed, so she is unable to fly and can’t be released into the wild. She was sent here to live with us as an animal ambassador.

Q. What are some unique characteristics about great horned owls?

A. Great horned owls have excellent vision and good depth perception, especially at night. They can see an object with only 5 percent of the light that is required by people, which is how they hunt at night. The tips of their wings are frayed, which helps them fly quietly, allowing them to catch their prey by surprise. They swoop down upon their prey, throw back their head, and thrust their feet forward in one rapid motion to capture and kill the prey with their sharp talons. Several hours after eating, they regurgitate pellets, or castings, which are small, usually spherical balls of feathers and bones.

Q. Can zoo guests see Athena?

A. She makes special appearances as an Animal Ambassador quite frequently. Animal Ambassadors can be seen at different times throughout the zoo and at other community events or special occasions. Each animal’s appearance is a surprise to guests, so while we can’t tell you exactly when you will see Athena, there is a good chance you might.

Q. Where can people learn more about these birds?

A. You can learn lots about this owl by visiting CZS.org. Equally as important, you can find out ways to protect owls and other birds of prey by using environmentally friendly rodenticide. This information is also listed on our website. If you visit Brookfield Zoo, you can stop by Hamill Family Play Zoo and talk to our animal care staff. We always love answering questions about any of our animals.

Q. Is there anything else that you think folks should know about Athena?

A. Yes. Athena’s species name is a little bit misleading. Great horned owls have no horns, and the tufts of feathers aren’t ears, either. More than 200 living owl species have the same tufts of feathers. To us, these tufts make the owls look cool, but in the wild, they may make the owls appear foreboding to prey. Their ears are actually located on the sides of the head. One ear is slightly higher than the other enabling them to pinpoint any prey’s location. They can hear a mouse squeak or a beetle rustling through grass more than 100 yards away!

To learn more about mossy tree frogs and the other animals at Brookfield Zoo, go to CZS.org or like Brookfield Zoo on Facebook at Facebook.com/BrookfieldZoo.

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