Hospital’s Birds make Learning a Hoot

At the Oaks Cinema in Melbourne, it is the night of the premiere for the movie version of “Hoot,” Carl Hiaasen’s novel about owls and teenage environmental activism.

In the lobby, screech owl-about-town Gonzo is quite the chick magnet, holding court amidst a gaggle of adolescent girls who keep “ooohing” and “aaahing” over the diminutive rusty red featherball.

With the aplomb of a seasoned movie star, Gonzo endures the attention with a few blinks.

“Many of the teens had never seen a live owl before,” said Gonzo’s “date” for the evening, Florida Wildlife Hospital director Sue Small, who grabbed the opportunity to teach the teenagers about the wildlife that lives beyond the back doors of their homes.

Gonzo is one of four educational birds at Florida Wildlife Hospital and Sanctuary in Palm Shores. Together with Eleanor and Kona, the two impressively large barred owls, and the sharp-eyed kestrel Radar, Gonzo does his share of public appearances, all for the sake of education.

There’s not much to Gonzo, just a bit of feathers, a sharp beak, tiny talons and unforgettable eyes. But when he perches on Small’s finger, occasionally sounding like he’s politely clearing his throat, Gonzo can open hearts and minds to the plight of wildlife in an area that is so rapidly losing its green state of mind.

At libraries and schools, at Turkey Creek Day Jubilee, at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, the four birds always draw the crowds.

Even seasoned birders enjoy chatting with Gonzo, for screech owls, though fairly common, are not usually visible because of their nighttime habits.

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