International Owl Center
By Amy Brase
Don’t just “wing it” when a “get out of town” feeling strikes. Make a day trip to Houston, Minnesota.
Whoooo’s it for?
Those who love the awe-inspiring, magnificent or downright adorable. In other words, it’s for everyone: All ages, all backgrounds.
Drop in and See
All things owl. Live feathered friends steal the spotlight, of course. The twice-a-day interactive programs with kid-friendly content are the heart of the center.
Must-sees include beautiful owl art from children around the world, a photography exhibit, high quality mounts of nine species of owls, and a special collection of skulls, eggs, wings.
A charming owl-themed gift shop offers apparel, décor, toys and keepsakes.
The International Owl Center (internationalowlcenter.org) is located in downtown Houston in a temporary location but has exciting plans for moving to a new, permanent facility at the edge of town. The staff hopes to house roughly two dozen owls representing species from around the world with outdoor aviaries that provide both comfort and mental stimulation.
The Founder & Her Feathered Friend
Karla Bloem recognized her interest in birds of prey at a young age when hawks followed her around as she made hay. Many experiences led her to the unique role she plays today: 4H, being a biology major and meeting a falconer.
After college, Karla was discouraged to find no jobs in her field. When the city of Houston brought a bike trail into town and decided to build a nature center at the trailhead, Karla seized the opportunity and began developing programs for the Houston Nature Center.
She searched for a non-releasable bird to use in the education programs. Enter the Great Horned Owl named Alice.
Alice the Great
In 1998, Karla met the owl that changed her life. Alice had fallen from a tree at three weeks of age and permanently injured her wing, leaving her unable to fly. Thankfully, there was a job for Alice at the Houston Nature Center and a home for her with Karla.
“I’ve lived with her ever since,” says Karla. “Because of that special connection, so many things have happened. Alice is human-imprinted and is unlike most owls because she enjoys lots of human attention. She thinks she’s a person but still hoots at wild owls and people. She also loves to shred cardboard egg cartons.”
Alice began working as the matriarch of the owl ambassadors at the International Owl Center when it opened in 2015. The center includes an Eurasian Eagle Owl, American Barn Owl and Eastern Screech Owl.
A celebrity among her many fans, Alice inspired a “Hatch Day” party to celebrate the day she hatched. This day quickly expanded into an event celebrating all owls and teaching people about conservation.
The first weekend in March is now known as the International Festival of Owls. Three hundred guests may have made for a big party in 2003, but the festival now draws thousands of enthusiasts from all over North America as well as far-away places like Kenya, Japan, Israel and Germany.
Alice the Great recently retired after 20 years of work due to age and arthritis, but only after truly leaving her special mark on the world. Not only has she inspired thousands through educational programs and been featured on Animal Planet and Minnesota Public Radio, she has also testified before the Minnesota House and Senate Environment Committees to help remove Great Horned Owls from Minnesota’s unprotected bird list. Karla and Alice also embarked on the first-ever study of great horned owl vocalizations. You can hear Alice’s famous hoots on Nat Geo TV’s Xbox Kinect game.
Though Alice’s work at the International Owl Center may have come to a close, the mission continues.
“Our goal is to educate, inspire and empower people to make changes in their lives to help owls,” says Karla. “We’re not just saying, ‘Yay! Here are some owl facts; aren’t they cool?’ We are owls’ biggest problem but also their biggest hope. Last year, we reached 14,000 people. Almost everybody who visits plans to do at least one thing differently.”
Amy Brase is a writer with an owl-loving daughter and a family that loves to road trip.
3 Ways to Live an Owl Friendly Life
1. Avoid indirectly poisoning owls by using traps instead of poison for rats and mice.
2. Leave dead trees standing when they aren’t dangerous. Certain owls need a tree cavity to nest and are unable to reproduce otherwise.
3. Don’t throw food or garbage into ditches. It attracts rodents, which attract owls and leads to owls being hit by cars.
The Wise Old Details
Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: Closed to the public
Live owl programs at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
www.internationalowlcenter.org • 126 E Cedar St., Houston, MN 55943
(507) 896-OWLS (6957)
Glide Around Town
While visiting Houston, don’t miss the Parade of Owls Art Tour featuring 11 public owl sculptures located around town.
Kiddos will love romping around the one-acre Houston Natural Playground. Buried fossils, stone tunnels and caves, a hand water pump and sluice and zip line create a park unlike most others.
The Houston Nature Center is at the Trailhead of the Root River Bike Trail. If you take your bike, you can enjoy the beautiful scenery and wildlife as you pedal your way through nine trail towns.
International Festival of Owls
festivalofowls.com • March 1–3, 2019 at Houston High School
Hoot, hoot, hooray! Owl lovers unite at the only annual, full-weekend owl festival in North America.
Highlights include live owl presentations, owl prowls to call in wild owls, international speakers, and a birding and natural history bus trip. Children enjoy building an owl nest box, dissecting a pellet, crafting and delighting in owl themed food. Prestigious awards are presented for the World Owl Hall of Fame.