West Nile Virus is on the rise again. We haven't seen these types of statistics since it first swept across the United States. We suspect that one of the recent casualties of WNV was BB our great horned owl, even though she was vaccinated for the disease.
BB came to us 18 years ago from a rehab center in Nebraska. She had been stolen from a nest when she was a young chick and abnormally imprinted by the boy that kidnapped her. He thought she would make a cool pet. Since he was a minor his parents paid the $2,000 fine for his shenanigans.
Unfortunately, she was stolen while still in her imprinting phase (2nd - 11th week of life). Imprinting is permanent and non-reversible. A birds' sexual, social and behavior development is all geared towards whatever she imprinted on. BB paid the ultimate price with a life in captivity.
She was an awesome educational bird and saw close to a million people in the 18 years she spent with us teaching them about great horned owls. Because she was human imprint she lacked fear of people and would sit on the glove or a perch for hours without the tiniest bit of stress.
We could put her between our two eagles at a custom exhibit and because she hadn't been taught to fear them (they could have eaten her) she would just casually glance at them and remain perched even when they would bate off their perches. As an education animal she was unflappable.
However, there were times of confusion for her at the main facility. When breeding season came she was moved inside and kept perched to protect the volunteers. Her idea of holding hands was to fly at you and lock her talons into your head. Thank goodness the breeding season was only from Nov-Feb. She was especially fond of red heads.
Volunteers were required to wear a hard hat and safety goggles when cleaning her enclosure and it was two-man job. One volunteer to hold BB and the other to clean. She often viewed volunteers as intruders into her territory and would try to drive them off by flying at them and hitting them with her talons.
I miss hearing her hoot at night and greeting me in the morning.
Diane Johnson is executive director of Operation WildLife, Inc., at 23375 Guthrie Rd., in Linwood, Kan.