The U.S. premiere of a long-anticipated owl documentary will be one of the high points of the 15th annual International Festival of Owls in Houston, Minnesota, March 3-5.
The owl festival, which started as a relatively small “hatch day” party for Alice the Great Horned Owl, an area celebrity who works at the International Owl Center, will feature the U.S. premiere of The Secret Life of Owls by Make Believe Media, Vancouver.
The documentary focuses on several great horned owls and their people: Alice and International Owl Center director Karla Bloem; wildlife cinematographer Neil Rettig and veterinarian Laura Johnson and their falconry owl, Robbie; Dr. Martin Gerard and an owl banding project in the Canadian prairies; orphaned owls at a top raptor rehabilitation facility; and a trio of wild owlets growing up in southern Alberta.
Rettig and Johnson will be on hand at the premiere at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 5, at the Houston High School to talk about the making of the film.
The International Owl Center, the only owl education center in the United States, opened in downtown Houston two years ago, an outgrowth of the owl festival. Some events during the day Friday will take place at the center. Most of the events at the three-day festival will take place at the local high school. That includes Alice’s 20th hatch day party at noon Sunday. Alice, however, will be on “maternity leave” during the festival, incubating eggs, leaving the education work to younger owls.
Since 2006, owl festival attendance has grown steadily to several thousand people from all over the globe, inundating the tiny town of just under 1,000 residents.
Especially popular are live-owl programs presented by biologists from the Illinois Raptor Center. (Hint: Crowds are smaller at the 7 p.m. Friday program.) The festival includes a range of activities for families and children as well as programs aimed at people with a more professional interest in owls: owl-themed food, nest box building, pellet dissection, owl crafts, kids’ owl calling contest, bus trips, raffle and a banquet at which the Hall of Fame awards are presented.
Since 2006, the festival has included a World Owl Hall of Fame to bestow awards upon humans and owls making the world a better place for owls. Since then, owl scientists and fans from Nepal, Taiwan, South Africa, Kenya, Israel, Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, England, Finland, Canada and the United States have been honored.
The 2017 Hall of Fame inductees, who will attend the festival, are:
• Champion of Owls Award: Dr. R. J. Gutierrez, from California. Gutierrez is an international leader in the study and conservation of owls. He has focused on the Spotted Owl in western North America.
• Special Achievement Award: Dr. Jonathan Slaght, from Minnesota. Slaght studies the world’s largest owl – the secretive and endangered Blakiston’s Fish Owl found in the remote forests of the Russian Far East.
• Special Achievement Award: Sumio Yamamoto, from Japan. Yamamoto has devoted his adult life to the study and conservation of the Blakiston’s Fish Owl in Japan.
Other notable events of this year’s festival:
• Artist Laurel Bahe of Colorado will lead a crowd-sourced project in which festival visitors will help create and paint an owl.
• Chainsaw artist Molly Wiste will carve a variety of owls into a standing dead tree in City Park.
• An international owl coloring contest for children with over 400 entries from 18 countries and 11 U.S. states, and an owl photography contest, with festival guests voting on the photography winners.
Schedules, maps, descriptions and registration information are available at www.festivalofowls.com, or call (507) 896-OWLS (6957).