For Immediate Release, March 3, 2007
HALL OF FAME AWARDS VISUALLY IMPAIRED OWL WHO HELPED BRING SPEECH TO AUTISTIC CHILD
Also Names Famed British Researcher “Champion of Owls”
HOUSTON, Minn.— An owl who motivated an autistic child to begin speaking and the man who founded the world’s first and foremost owl conservation organization were inducted into the World Owl Hall of Fame at the Festival of Owls in Houston, Minnesota on March 2, 2007.
Owly, a short-eared owl from Alaska, started on his career path as an educator when he crashed headlong into the floodlight of a fishing boat out on the open ocean during his first migration. After winning over the crew of the boat and the villagers of Saint Paul Island as they all came together to care for the injured raptor, Owly traveled by plane to the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage, where he received more specialized care.
Owly’s physical injuries healed first; his psychological healing did not really begin till he was moved out of the clinic and into the stimulating environment of volunteer Barbara Doak’s sunroom cage in her home. While watching birds at the nearby birdfeeders, he became animated and began to eat on his own for the first time since his injury. It soon became apparent, though, that vision problems sustained during his crash would be permanent, leaving him unable to see well enough to live in the wild again. He then accepted a new job as an educator, working with the treatment center’s staff as an ambassador for his kind.
Owly’s easygoing temperament makes him an excellent choice for educating blind and partially sighted people, who can relate to his handicap. But perhaps Owly’s biggest achievement came on an occasion when his audience included an autistic child. He was able to connect with this child, apparently, as no human had: the little boy, previously considered to be without language capabilities, ran up to his teacher and spontaneously began asking questions about Owly, astounding parents and teacher alike.
Barbara Doak, Owly’s handler and keeper, sees him as a very special individual. “He’s a very polite, nice, bird,” says Doak. It was Doak’s son Dan who suggested she submit a nomination for Owly for the World Owl Hall of Fame’s Lady Gray’l Award. When Dan was told that Owly had won, he responded, “I have never known such a famous owl before, let alone one so modest.”
Owly has made so many connections—connections that warm people’s hearts to all owls. In his 14 years of work so far, he has touched the lives of 9,800 people, both in the city of Anchorage and in remote villages requiring flights in small aircraft. And yes: he has also been back to visit the people of Saint Paul, who worked so hard to save his life.