(Riverton, WY) “Owls in Wyoming” and learning about local wildlife was the theme of the latest in the Children Exploration Series event that was held at the Riverton Museum on Wednesday.
Children and attendees were fascinated with the presentation of “Jupiter the Owl” by Rene Schell of Wyoming Game and Fish. Jupiter is a Great Horned Owl that is about 22 inches and is the strongest owl with a grip strength that is almost as strong as a bald eagle. Schell also spoke about the variety of owls in Wyoming, with the Great Grey owl being the largest, the Northern Pygmy which is as small as 7-8 inches, and the Burrowing Owl, a species that burrows its nest underground.
“Owls don’t build their own nests…almost all owls use another’s nest,” said Schell, adding that owls use and build upon the nests of other birds such as crows, or in tree cavities. “So a burrowing owl doesn’t dig its own hole…he uses a hole of a prairie dog…and then he also eats the prairie dog.”
Jupiter was found in Jackson, and was “really emaciated and was pretty hungry when he was found,” Schell said. “They couldn’t figure out why until they finally found out that he had a retinal detachment, so he can’t see very well…which also meant he couldn’t hunt.”
Owls have three eyelids…a top lid that blinks, a bottom lid that comes up when they sleep, and a clear eyelid called a nictitating membrane that keeps out dirt and debris as they fly. “Like a pair of goggles,” Schell said. “Crocodiles and alligators also have them…river otters and other aquatic animals have it, too.”
Attendees were also able to see and touch various pelts, skins, bones and skulls of animals such as fox, wolverine, skunk, raccoon and other prey. Schell said that the presentation is geared toward teaching about owls in Wyoming, animal adaptations, and “about what owls eat and also about what animals might eat them…rounding out a little more of the wildlife piece of it,” she said.
As far as birds of prey and domesticated animals, “it can be a concern and I’m sure it happens with small dogs and small cats, but you really don’t hear about it,” Schell said. “Luckily, we live in a place with lots of other abundant prey and wildlife….those are not their target species. But if it’s there and they’re hungry, they’ll probably take the opportunity.”
Schell has been with Wyoming Game and Fish for 18 years as a non-game and trophy game biologist and is now the Information and Education Specialist. In regard to wildlife during the summer months, Schell said that this time of year it’s about the babies.
“We’re trying to get people to not pick up all the babies,” she said. “Birds or waterfowl babies? Mom will come back…and if you really are concerned, call Game and Fish. Don’t pick it up.”
Schell also said that starting now, birds and bats “seem to be kind of a concern,” she said. “Sometimes people will see the young bats in the daytime on their house and they think, “Oh no, it’s daytime!” It’s probably a young bat trying to figure things out, so just let it sit. If it’s still there the next day, then you should probably call us. Otherwise, they’re nocturnal, so they’re going to go somewhere that night.”
Rattlesnakes den together in a group, “so in the Spring when it warms up, they’re coming out of the den, and then often you might find them in clusters on the landscape,” Schell said. “So when you see one, there might be many nearby…then they will disperse from there, and then come back to that same den. They hibernate together in big groups.”
“They don’t want to harm us,” Schell continued. “Be cautious. Getting your pets vaccinated is really important. I think that just being cautious anytime you’re out in that high desert, just be aware of your surroundings.
Regarding all wildlife Schell said that “the biggest thing is to give them space,” she said. “Let them be. If you have concerns, call Game and Fish. You can always program the “Stop Poaching” hotline into your phone. You’ll reach dispatch, so if it’s after hours, and there’s a deer that’s been hit, or if you have some kind of emergency, you can call that number and you can get a Game and Fish person.”
For more information about Wyoming wildlife, visit the Wyoming Game and Fish Department website.
“Fun with Retro Computers” is the next Children’s Exploration Series event at the Riverton Museum, presented this Saturday, July 1 at 11:00 a.m. The event is free; come learn about and play on older computer systems that are becoming rarer and rarer!