Although the name “Alabama Wildlife Center” indicates they serve all wildlife, the AWC’s specialty is native birds. Bring them an injured or orphaned bird, and they will care for it with expertise and love. During the spring, when local and migrating birds encounter cars, power lines, and other human-generated hazards, the AWC is particularly busy. In their bird hospital, they treat every bird in their care with a mission to heal it and release it back into the wild, whether it’s a common house sparrow or a majestic raptor. So why save birds that would die in nature? Because it’s the right thing to do, especially considering the human-generated-hazard part of the equation. Let’s meet one of the rehabilitated birds, permanently injured as a nestling, that makes its home at the AWC.
Coosa, a Barred Owl (Strix varia), joined the AWC in 2001. He came to the Center only a few weeks old with a near-fatal infected wound. Although he recovered under the nurturing care of the experts at AWC, he would not be able to feed himself in the wild well enough to stay healthy. Thanks to a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Coosa stays in the care of the crew at the center as an Avian Ambassador. Since all wildlife is federally protected, USFWS requires a permit that says the AWC knows how to care for the birds.
If you haven’t seen an Barred Owl up close, it’s quite a treat. Right away, you’ll notice the large brown eyes, sharp yellow beak, and strong talons (sharp, claw-like toenails). The “bars” are a feather pattern in vertical streaks on Coosa’s belly. Barred Owls don’t have ear tufts like a Great Horned Owl or the yellow eyes and heart-shaped face of a Barn Owl. Their call “who-cooks-for-you?” is easy to remember. When bird hospital staff feed or treat owls as part of their rehabilitation for release, they wear camouflage suits to keep the birds from becoming too familiar with humans – who might do them harm in the wild. Coosa’s special status as an Avian Ambassador allows the staff to work closely with him (without the camo suit) to teach him to be calm around visitors so they can touch him and learn to love him. Making this thrilling bird-human connection helps visitors appreciate – and want to protect – the state’s wildlife.