Hoot Mama

In the rural reaches of southeastern Minnesota, dreams are coming true. If you, too, have longed for a weekend-long, all-owl festival of international proportions, look no further than Houston, Minnesota’s sixth annual International Festival of Owls. One might assume that there are only a limited number of ways that one could celebrate the illustrious, nocturnal bird, but you’d be wrong.

According to the festival’s website (www.festivalofowls.com), the festivities originated as a celebration of Alice the Great Horned Owl’s “hatch day.” Alice is a hip, cosmopolitan owl who even has her own blog (http://owlstuff.com/aliceweblog.html). It is no wonder that an event of international magnitude was necessitated.

The festival starts out, fittingly, with a cash bar, which one can only fully appreciate as the festivities wear on. After attendees are sufficiently liquored up, Alice makes a brief appearance, keeping autographs to a minimum so as not to risk assault by the paparazzi. A banquet follows, featuring the 2008 keynote address – “Adventures with 7,000 Nestling Great Horned Owls: Eaters of Snowshoe Hares.” The in depth dinner discussion of rampant carnivores devouring sweet, bloody bunny flesh will make your mouth water. But wait, there’s more.

After the banquet, you won’t want to miss the World Owl Hall of Fame Award Presentations, not to be confused with the more localized, less prestigious National Owl Hall of Fame Awards. Two inductees are recognized each year – one of the human and another of the owl variety. Human inductees receive the honored title of Champion of Owls (and, I’m sure, a nifty hat), while owl inductees receive an award named after the great owl champion of owl rights, Lady Gray’l, who, according to her online tribute, “flew from this world” in 2005. The non-human version of the award was designed “for owls who have made a difference,” and so as not to discriminate, the application only asks that the nominee’s gender be specified “if known.” Perhaps the most challenging section of the nomination application is that which asks, “Describe the owl nominee’s level of contentment with his/her situation.”

Owl keeper: “Hey there, Hoots. What’s yer level of contentment today?

Owl: “Hoot.”

Owl keeper: “No, on a scale from one to ten.”

Owl: “Hoot.”

Owl keeper: [writing] “Smug yet contemplative.”

Heartwarmingly, both human and owl inductees can be nominated posthumously. But wait, there’s more.

The subsequent morning, one can awake to the owl face pancake breakfast. Nothing quite stimulates the digestive juices as a beaked pancake that stares back. But wait, there’s more.

Breakfast is quickly followed by its logical aftermath during the owl pellet dissection. The website informs us, “When owls eat, they eat fur, feathers, bones, and all. Once or twice a day, depending on the species, they throw up a pellet consisting of the indigestible portion of their meal – the fur or feather and bones. By taking the pellet apart, you can figure out from the bones what the owl had for supper.” Be forewarned – you will have to pay five dollars per pellet for the privilege of sifting through the bird’s barfed-up breakfast. The educator leading the vomit vivisection, we are assured, has been educated by the finest in the field, the late Gary Duke, “bird digestion man extraordinaire.” To set the mood, in the background there will be “owl themed videos running continuously.” But wait, there’s more.

As part of the children’s activities, there is a human banding station where one can be “measured and banded just like an owl.” Admittedly, the thought of wrestling misbehaving children to the ground and tagging them with radio-trackable tags does have some appeal. But children aren’t the only ones who get to join in the fun – later in the day, there will be the “banding of honored guests.” What greater honor is there than being shot down from behind by a tranquilizer gun and waking up in the back of some stranger’s trailer to find a wildlife tracking tag stapled to your nose? Never mind how you’ll explain it to the spouse. But wait, there’s more.

When the sedatives wear off, your hunger will be hooting for a hot, owl-themed lunch. They promise “barn owl bratwurst” and “screech owl soup.” Also enjoy the local specialty, braised owl, followed by a delectable owl soufflé and – my personal favorite – owl au flambé. But wait, there’s more.

The Saturday festivities culminate in a two hour supper hosted by the Baptist Church. That’s right, my friends – the owls and the Baptists have formed an alliance. It’s worse than we thought. Regardless, it promises to be a real hoot.

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