Non-Profit Internet Source for News, Events, History, & Culture of Northern Frederick & Carroll County Md./Southern Adams County Pa.


In The Country

Hoooo is coming to Strawberry Hill?

Madison McMann
Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve

(12/2013) Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve is excited to announce its newest environmental education project: a brand new Barred Owl exhibit and educational program!

Barred Owls are native to the state of Pennsylvania and their range covers most of the Eastern half of the United States. Their distinctive call of ‘Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?’ can often be heard after dark at Strawberry Hill and throughout many rural areas. These owls prefer to live in forested areas away from dense human populations. However, as their habitat shrinks due to deforestation they are becoming increasingly common in suburban areas as well. Like most owl species, Barred Owls are nocturnal and do most of their hunting at night. They prefer to sit on high perches in the trees and swoop down onto their prey, which is most often some kind of small mammal or bird. Barred Owls generally lay two to four eggs between January and May, depending on how far north they are living, and the eggs hatch about four weeks later.

Because they are highly sensitive to areas that have been affected by logging, Barred Owls are often viewed as an indicator species when evaluating the health of forests. While a decrease in the amount of logging occurring in their natural range has led to a population increase for their species, habitat destruction is still the primary threat to Barred Owls, who prefer to nest in large, dead trees. At least twice during the post-Civil War era, the land at Strawberry Hill was subjected to logging to operate the timber mill on the property, located in what is today called the Lane House. Many of the trails found at Strawberry Hill today were created as a result of the logging on the property. Strawberry Hill has since recovered from the logging, and while selective timbering still occurs on the property to maintain the overall health of the forest, the prominent presence of Barred Owls on the grounds indicates that the forest is in good condition.

With the debut of this Barred Owl educational program, Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve will be providing the community with the only raptor program in Adams or any of the surrounding counties in Pennsylvania. Because Barred Owls and many other raptor species are commonly found in this area, the current lack of educational programming involving these species is a missed opportunity to educate the public about animals they have probably admired in their own backyards. The proposed educational program, in addition to educating visitors about the Barred Owl specifically, would examine the ‘big picture’ of raptor status and conservation. The program offers the public a unique opportunity to get to know a native animal that they may frequently hear but rarely see. Learning about the wild animals that live in the area will help raise awareness about how our actions impact those animals and the environment as a whole, which furthers Strawberry Hill’s mission to provide environmental education.

Many people have experienced an animal program at some point during their lives. But have you ever thought about the type of work that goes into launching a new program? Money might be a requirement that pops into many people’s minds. Funds were raised for this project on November 2 at the 12th annual Party for the Preserve. Thanks to the extreme generosity of the donors, Strawberry Hill was able to raise much of the money needed to get the program up and running.

The next phase of the project involves the conceptualization of the educational program itself. The program will be adapted for both children and adult audiences and will therefore be offered in the format of evening program for adults as well as school field trip programs for children. In addition, the bird will be able to serve as an ‘animal ambassador’ and travel off-site to schools and community events.

After the content of the program has been created, a plan for every aspect of care for the owl will need to be generated. This includes determining the bird’s diet and feeding schedule as well as how and when the aviary will be cleaned; creating protocols for how the bird will be handled and trained; setting up a medical care plan for the bird; and determining who will handle the owl; and how they will be trained.

Once the snow melts and spring arrives, Strawberry Hill will begin the next phase of the project: renovating the existing aviary, located by the Lane House, so that it is suitable for a Barred Owl. This includes the addition of perches and a nesting box; a change in the substrate at the bottom of the aviary; and the addition of a second door to the aviary to prevent the owl from escaping. For the safety of the owl and visitors, the area around the aviary will be refurbished as well to include a fence and the area will be landscaped using native plant species.

Once the aviary renovation is complete, Strawberry Hill will be able to apply for the federal and state permits to obtain an owl. The application process is extensive and the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will carefully review the educational program and the care and training protocols for the owl as well as conduct an inspection of the aviary before the permits are granted. This process will take several weeks; however, after Strawberry Hill receives the permitting, the search for a Barred Owl can begin. It is illegal in the United States to keep a raptor in captivity if it is capable of being safely released into the wild, so the owl will need to be acquired from a raptor rehabilitation facility in the mid-Atlantic region. The owl we receive would not be able to survive in the wild. After the owl has been acquired, potential handlers will be slowly introduced to the owl, and training for the owl and handlers will begin.

In October of 2014, it is projected that the raptor program will debut at Strawberry Hill. In addition to the educational benefits and the increased community outreach, the program is expected to be able to sustain itself after its first year and bring in additional revenue to Strawberry Hill. After the program has been established, future goals associated with this project include the construction of an outdoor amphitheater in which many educational programs, including the owl program, can be given in a scenic outdoor setting. Another goal is to make the aviary area wheelchair accessible so the owl exhibit can be enjoyed by guests with disabilities.

Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit located in the South Mountain Region of Adams County, Pennsylvania. Since its inception in 1986, the preserve has strived to protect the Swamp Creek watershed, the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and connect our community with the natural world through forest stewardship and environmental education at our 609 acre preserve. The preserve is open to the public free of cost and visited each year by over 10,000 school children, hikers, birders, picnickers, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Read other articles on strawberry Hill