HEFLIN — A chorus of “woos, wows and oohs” was the vocal reaction from 20 kids gathered at Cahulga Creek Park on Wednesday, as Jonathan Stober pulled a barn owl from a cage during the last Wild Wednesdays of the summer.
Stober, a wildlife biologist with the Shoal Creek Ranger District of the United States Forest Service, held the enigmatic creature as it flapped its wings under the Arbacoochee pavilion while Stober lectured the kids on birds of prey.
Stober, assisted by Leslie Hodge, natural resource specialist for the Talladega and Shoal Creek Districts, passed around preserved talons and bird wings so the kids could become better acquainted with the various raptors which rule the skies.
Stober said that the great horned owl can compress up to 500 pounds of pressure per square inch with its talons to asphyxiate prey. A human fist when compressed only offers 10 pounds of pressure per square inch.
Stober then educated the kids on eagles, noting that bald eagles are very aggressive.
“If you were to hold one of them, you better pay attention to where its beak is because it’s going to try to take your face off,” said Stober.
The golden eagle, according to Stober, is really mellow and laid back and will “actually fall asleep in your arms.”
Stober said that owls hunt at night and hawks hunt during the day.
“The hawks are hunting right now, so you better watch out,” Stober said with a smile.
As Stober looked at the barn owl he said that they are the most common owl in the world.
“Everybody thinks that owls are really smart, isn’t that the myth? Well owls are not particularly wise, they’re just very adept. They have skills that other birds don’t,” said Stober.
Barn owls have large discs on their faces which allow them to “see with hearing” like a bat does, he said.
Barn owls are also notoriously loud.
“In the middle of the night if you hear blood curdling screams coming out of a barn, it could be a person but more than likely it’s a barn owl,” said Stober.
To sum up his lesson, Stober said the job of birds of prey is to take care of pests and balance out the ecosystem.
Lilly Rosser, 11, said that she was impressed with the program that Stober presented and that she also wants to be a wildlife biologist.
“I’ve learned that birds of prey are at the top of the food chain. They’re typically the birds in charge,” Rosser said.
After Stober and Hodge departed, the kids created owl necklaces and made bird-themed snacks.
Wild Wednesdays is sponsored by the Friends of the Talladega National Forest and the City of Heflin.