A mostly tame 17-year-old barred owl named Blinky was the star of the show last Sunday at Norris Dam State Park, as park Ranger Trent Ellen gave an “owl talk” to a gathering of mostly children and their parents.
As Ellen discussed owls and their attributes before the crowd of about 100 in the parking lot at the Norris Dam Visitors’ Center, Blinky sat on her perch at the rear of the ranger’s pickup truck. She alternately turned to look at the crowd and then back at Ellen, all the time with a curious look on her face.
“Blinky is one of two owls we keep at the park,” Ellen said. “She got hit by a car, so she can’t fly, and she can’t be turned loose. We’ve had her for about 17 years now.”
He noted that owls can turn their heads side to side up to 270 degrees, which is necessary for them to see all around them because their eyes are fixed in their heads. “They can’t turn their eyes like we can,” Ellen said.
They can blink, however, which is something Blinky does quite often, a trait that earned her the name.
Owls in captivity live to be around 20 years, Ellen said. The park got Blinky from a local bird rescue that went out of business, and she’s been kept in a building on the south side of the park since she arrived.
Ellen explained that Blinky is known as a barred owl because of the dark brown bars on her otherwise mostly lighter brown, gray and cream-colored body feathers.
The park also has an Eastern screech owl named Georgie, who is about 12 years old, Ellen said.
“When we got her. we originally called her George,” he said. “Then when we found out she was actually female instead of male, we just changed her name to Georgie.”
The owls eat mostly rodents in their natural habitat, so the two kept at the park are fed a diet of frozen mice that the owls’ keepers thaw out before giving them to the birds.
“Blinky gets six or seven mice every couple of days,” he said.
The park uses the owls in educational programs such as last weekend’s owl talk, and lets kids have their photos taken with the owls.
But the kids on Sunday were told “no” when some asked if they could touch Blinky.
“She doesn’t like that,” Ellen said. “She will bite you.”