Hoo hoo hoo knew our state is home to the nation’s only owl-exclusive education center? Located in a historic building in downtown Houston, less than five minutes from the bike-friendly Root River Trail, the International Owl Center is a must-see when tooling around Bluff Country.
Executive director Karla Bloem was working with the the City of Houston to develop a nature center when she acquired her first owl, Alice. The year was 1998 and the Great Horned girl had fallen out of her nest at just 3 weeks old. Severe injuries to her elbow and wrist meant she could never fly again, so Alice was kept in captivity and used for educational programming.
A Festival of Owls followed in 2003 and has grown exponentially since, drawing ornithologists and owl lovers from across the globe. While conducting an unprecedented vocal study on owls, Bloem took in two more non-releasable Great Horned birds, Rusty and Iris, to use in a captive breeding program. Ruby, pictured at the top, was one of their offspring, hatched in 2014. The IOC is also home to an American Barn Owl (Piper), an Eastern Screech Owl (JR), and a Eurasian Eagle Owl (Uhu).
Education is a top priority for the IOC. Visitors are not allowed to pet the owls and must maintain a safe distance during presentations. In summer, live owl programs run at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., Friday through Monday; these cater to adults and children alike, with the audience voting on which program they want to watch in any given session. (Adult admission is $7; kids ages 4 to 17 cost $4; and members and children under 3 are free.) We caught an hour-long presentation with educator Jo Severson, who was fantastic with the kids while still entertaining adults.
The IOC’s current home on East Cedar is temporary; it is in the process of acquiring land to develop a larger site closer to the river. The new facility will house two dozen birds in climate-controlled rooms and outdoor aviaries.
Its biggest fundraiser of the year is scheduled for June 29 from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in Houston. “Breakfast with the Owls” is a family-style meal sandwiched between a “Meet the Owls” program and live auction. The hyperlocal menu includes a buckwheat fruit tart made with flour from Schech’s Mill and goat cheese from Marge Kitchen and Karyl Dronen, pinwheel quiche with eggs from Ethan’s Eggs and fresh shiitake mushrooms from Brian Lee, and wild boar bacon from Buffalo Gal. Tickets are $75 and must be purchased in advance. Sales benefit the acquisition of land for the IOC’s future site. 🦉❤️
International Owl Center
126 E. Cedar St., Houston, MN; 507-896-6957.