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Wise old education owl

Michael Pratt holds Orion. He spoke to Audobon society members at the Coupeville Recreation Hall about owls of Washington.   - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Michael Pratt holds Orion. He spoke to Audobon society members at the Coupeville Recreation Hall about owls of Washington.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

A crowd of Whidbey Audubon Society members packed the Coupeville Recreation hall Thursday evening to meet Orion, a great horned owl who works as a education ambassador for the West Sound Wildlife Shelter on Bainbridge Island.

“I know you all really came out to see Orion, not me,” joked handler Michael Pratt, director of wildlife services for the shelter, who talked to the audience about all things owl.

Pratt’s 17 years of experience rehabilitating wildlife, working in avian captive management and training raptors taught him more than any birding manual could about the birds he works with.

“Rehabilitation is very important,” he said of the sick and injured animals that come into the shelter, “but you can’t do it without education.”

On average the shelter keeps 2 or 3 animals a year as candidates for education programs, which make the rounds to schools, Audubon meetings, fairs and any other venue with people interested and willing to learn how to protect wildlife.

Many of the birds that make their way to the shelter are “kidnapped,” Pratt said, referring to fledglings that have fallen from the nest and brought in by well-meaning humans. They should be left alone, he said.

But the most common factors contributing to injury are cats, collisions with cars and poisonings.

In 2007 the shelter treated 650 animals. This year, the shelter is on track to treat more than 700 animals, he said.

“The rehabilitation program has taken off because of the influx of people into the area,” he said.

Robin Llewellyn said she enjoyed the opportunity to get up close and personal with the great horned owl.

“This is a great way to raise consciousness,” she said. “Owls represent a wide range of factors affecting the environment.”

Orion, named after the constellation know as the great hunter, sat perched on Pratt’s gloved hand and maintained his scholarly composure throughout the presentation.

“I’d like to think that he’s like my dog,” Pratt said of his relationship with Orion, “but I think he thinks of me more like a tree. My arm is just like a comfortable limb.”

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