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Whooo knows what awaits visitors at Owl Center?

The International Owl Center in Houston, Minn., was hatched from an owlet that fell out of a nest in Wisconsin. Karla Bloem, executive director of the center, began studying the vocalizations of the great horned owl, named Alice, and soon found that there was very little research on the subject.

Through the Houston Nature Center, Bloem began teaching the public about owls, and a “hatch-day” party for Alice one March turned into the International  Festival of Owls. People come from all over the country to the town of about 1,000 for the festival, and the Owl Center officially opened to the public during this year’s event. Bloem says it’s the only such center in the country focused on owl education and open to the public.

The center will hold an open house on Sunday, May 17, with free admission, owl-themed refreshments like edible owl pellets, and a chance to meet the owls in residence and learn about owls in the wild.

If you can’t make it on Sunday, stop in to the center’s arresting storefront (you can’t miss the giant owls staring at you) in Houston during regular hours, 10-4 Friday-Monday. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for kids 4-17 and free for members and kids under 3. Houston is about 2 ½ hours from the Twin Cities, and  a fine weekend plan could also include a trip to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha.

Bloem’s research on owl vocalization continues, along with a study of great horned owl nesting, and she has drawn in citizen researchers from around the world to watch several owl cams and record observations in a Google database. “When people start learning about owls, they want to help them,” she said.

The stories of the owls that live at the center also draw people into the effort to help owls thrive. Owl Center resident Timber, a barred owl, was left for dead after a chainsaw went through his nest cavity in a dead tree. His siblings were all killed and he was scalped, so couldn’t be rehabilitated and released. Because of his story, visitors learn how important dead trees are to owl habitat, and can change their own practices. They may also learn that if you want to get rid of mice and rats, you should use traps, not poison. Why? Owls are exceptionally good at catching rodents, and most great horned owls have some poison in their bodies from eating tainted meat.



Ruby and Rupert, two young great horned owls, fill out the inhabitants of the Owl Center. Ruby is famous for The Look, which can startle visitors and scare the kids, even though “she’s a sweetheart,” says Bloem. Her distinctive look was captured here by Star Tribune photographer Brian Peterson.

For more information:
126 E Cedar St
Houston, Minn.
1-507-896-OWLS (6957)


Marriage proposal is ultimate in-flight entertainment on Vegas flight

Spirit Airlines: marriage proposal on flight 188 from Irisaida Mendez on Vimeo.

Budget airline Spirit isn't known for its in-flight entertainment. But one man changed that on one Spirit flight from Oakland, Calif., to Las Vegas when he proposed to his girlfriend of 2 years.

Midflight, Ray Akbari went to the front of the plane, took over the intercom (as he had previously arranged with Spirit), talked about his relationship with his girlfriend, Freshta Atiqui, and then asked her to turn around. From her spot in the second row, she saw behind her a sea of white pieces of paper printed with, "Will you marry me?" Fellow passengers, in on the proposal, held the sheets aloft. Then he got down on one knee with ring in hand, she said yes and passengers cheered.

This unique proposal makes me ask several questions: Man, Spirit, really; can an ultra-budget airline really say, 'I love you?' when other carriers with first class cabins also fly the route? Is this kind of made-for-social-media proposal a sign of more outrageous proposal to come, akin to the ever more spectacular invites to prom today's teens concoct? And the most important question of all: Before I hit the play button on this video, is there tissue at my desk? Because, really, I'm a sucker for romance, even in a super-cramped airplane heading to Vegas. Check it out above.

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