In the blink of her eye, you’ll absorb a lifetime of serenity, focus and understanding. As instructor in the harmonies of nature, there is no better teacher than the barred owl Strix on the arm of her keeper, Dallas County Conservation Environmental Education Coordinator and Naturalist Chris Adkins.
Soaring soundlessly through the thickest of timber, owls have been the source of comfort and fear for as long as time remembers. Literally. Owls are among the treasured creatures depicted in some of civilization’s earliest art, discovered in France’s Chauvet Cave (ca. 30,000 B.C.). As silent hunters of the dark, owls play an active role in human imaginings, inspiring both fear and awe.
But getting to know an owl up close and personal, cultivating a kinship, becoming its student? That is a relatively recent development. It was a barbed wire fence that would have done Strix in, if not for the intervention of Chris Adkins. Years of training, a career in conservation and a lifetime fascination with owls led him to the rescue site. He transported the mangled bird to Saving Our Avian Resources (SOAR) in Dedham, Iowa. There, Kay Neuman worked for a year to help the barred owl regain her flight.
But the damage was too severe. The critical flight feathers on Strix’s right wing would never power her through the night air. Because she could not survive alone in her native Dallas County timber, Strix joined the Dallas County Conservation Board staff as educator. With her keeper, Chris Adkins, Strix is now a member – indeed, the star – of the conservation education team.
"I’ve been the keeper of that owl for a year and a half now," Adkins says. "She’s one of the best teachers I have ever had. It’s an amazing thing to have that piece of wilderness that close to you."
Adkins introduces Strix to students throughout Central Iowa, both in the classroom and in presentations at Dallas County Conservation offices.
Most recently, Strix held class at Kuehn Conservation’s Bear Creek Nature Center, 5-1/2 miles north of Earlham. From owl aficionados to greenhorns, eager beavers to foot draggers, she coaxed every student into enjoying a memorable hour. Before the evening’s end, Strix had the youngest protégé in this class hooting, yes, like an owl. Nobody was more delighted than Strix’s keeper, Chris Adkins.
When she’s not teaching, Strix resides in a mew in the timbers of Dallas County. The safe haven offers generous space, and a healthful diet. Spring will bring even more freedom, with the addition of a flight pen. Here, Strix will experience flight to the best of her ability, one careful leap at a time.
As well, because the mew is large and her keeper’s heart is huge, Strix may soon have a companion of her own genus. There is hope that Dallas County Conservation will be able to adopt a second flightless Strix Varia, also rehabbed at SOAR.
"There is research coming out that birds are healthier if they are not in solitary," Adkins says. "I can’t be an owl, I can’t interact with her. So the ultimate answer to making this a quality of life for Strix is, don’t keep her in solitude."
On February 4, Dallas County Conservation’s Chris Adkins hosts the annual Owl Prowl at Kuehn Conservation Area. You’ll start at the fireside, getting your hoot up to snuff. Then venture with the group into the dark timber to give a hoot and be a part of the evening’s chat. Registration is required for this free event. For more information, contact the Dallas County Conservation Offices at 515/465-3577. Or visit www.conservation.co.dallas.ia.us.