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Even kids put the “International” in the Festival of Owls

Fri, Feb 14th, 2014
Posted in All The Great Outdoors

By Karla Bloem

When the Friends of the Houston Nature Center started the Owl Festival way back in 2003, it was simply called the Festival of Owls. Then in 2007 they added the World Owl Hall of Fame and people began flying to Houston from all over the country and world. But still people who stopped by the Houston Nature Center thought it was “cute” that they did an owl festival. They simply didn’t have a clue as to the scope of the Festival.

So eventually, after much discussion, the name was changed to the INTERNATIONAL Festival of Owls. That got the people to stand up and take notice! (Unfortunately it turned some people off too, since they didn’t think it was for local people anymore—but it still most certainly is!!!)

With a name like “International Festival of Owls”, there are some pretty big expectations to live up to. How do they do it?

The World Owl Hall of Fame is the big, showy way they manage the “international” part of the name. There are judges in four different countries and awards are presented to people (and owls) from around the world. Thanks to generous sponsors, the festival has been able to pay travel expenses for many of the winners to attend the festival and speak in recent years.

Little old Houston, Minn. has had speakers from Canada, Jamaica, Norway, the Netherlands, England, Germany, Kenya, South Africa, Nepal, and Taiwan. Not to mention Massachusetts, Alaska, Montana, Oregon, Virginia, and elsewhere in the USA.

But the festival is always working for more international participation. Their owl coloring contest this year received entries from all over the U.S., Canada, Ireland, England, Malta, Indonesia, and Australia (actually there were five or six entries from Australia). In previous years there have also been entries from Spain and the Philippines.

Since their amateur photography contest is digital, they are able to get submissions from around the world too. This year there are entries from all over the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Estonia. In previous years there have also been entries from Italy and the Netherlands.

I think, through my role as festival coordinator, the international part of the Festival is part of what makes it extra special. Not only are people learning about owls, but they are also seeing owls through the eyes of other cultures and learning about those cultures. Not just adults, but kids in other cultures.

Pictured here is Kennard Alvaro Hadinata from Indonesia, age 5 years 7 months, with the drawing he made for the International Festival of Owls’ owl coloring contest. He loves to enter art contests around the world. He missed receiving the award for the entry from the farthest away by about 200 miles, while a 4 year-old girl in South Australia picked it up.

This year the festival banquet will feature Dr. Heimo Mikkola, the World Owl Hall of Fame’s Champion of Owls winner. Although he’s from Finland, he has traveled to over 125 countries during his career working for the United Nations. He should have some extremely interesting cultural stories to tell. There will also be a showing of three short owl films from Nepal (with English subtitles) during the banquet…the top three winners from the Nepal Owl Festival’s documentary contest (a sister festival to Houston’s festival, held the same weekend.)

The Special Achievement Award winner this year, Dr. Motti Charter, is from Israel. He’s working to help farmers use Barn Owls for natural rodent control… and he’s also working with Jordan and Palestine. Talk about transcending political boundaries!

All of the cultural and international pieces of the festival are very exciting, but the festival still has plenty to do for people who aren’t into those kinds of things. There are still the live owl programs, owl face painting, owl crafts, owl prowls to call in wild owls, pellet dissection, nest box building, and more. And this year you can even get owls painted on your fingernails!

Whether you’re a kid or a professor, don’t care a whole lot about owls or really love them, you can have a great time at the International Festival of Owls March 7-9 in Houston. Check out for more information or to register for the banquet and bus trip.

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