Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fundraising campaign for Max the owl wings its way toward goal : Birds of Prey campaign has raised $78,000 to build aviary at Museum of Natural Histor


July 12, 2009 9:57 AM

A fundraising campaign to provide a home for Max the Great Horned Owl and five other birds kicked off Saturday morning at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

The Birds of Prey campaign has already raised $78,000 out of the needed $150,000 to build an aviary at the museum in conjunction with the Santa Barbara Audubon Society, which hosts an array of wildlife educational programs, some with the birds.

The campaign launch drew a crowd of approximately 50 and showed off Max along with the three other birds currently cared for by the program.

These three birds are Kachina, an American kestrel; Tecolita, a Western screech owl; and Ivan, a red-tailed hawk.

The aviary will be built large enough to include two other birds the museum and the Audubon Society hope to acquire once the habitat is in place.

Construction on the habitat should begin in September and last no longer than two months.

Gabriele Drozdowski is Max's trainer who, out of her home, has been directing an Audubon Society program called Eyes in the Sky.

"It's like a dream come true," said Ms. Drozdowski of the new habitat at the museum. "The birds' location is secluded, peaceful, serene."

Planning for the habitat began in 2003 after Ms. Drozdowski brought the birds to the museum for programs free of charge several times.

The exhibit, which will be the first live bird offering for the museum, will provide an opportunity for public showings of the bird every day.

These showings will be conducted largely by volunteers, according to Ms. Drozdowski.

"We have a group of 15 volunteers," she explained. "Twelve can work with the birds, and eight can present them to the public."

The birds will be taken out and fed from 2-4 p.m. every day until a maximum volunteer workforce is achieved, at which time the public will have access to view the birds for several hours a day.

Max will be in seclusion every year for approximately three months while he fosters a baby owl, but a webcam will be set up so that visitors can still see him and the young one for whom he cares.

Ms. Drozdowski has a very close relationship with Max.

"Max has been with me since he was 6 months old," she said. "The first mating season, he decided I was his new wife."

During this time, Max courted her not with flowers, but with a dead mouse every night.

"He built a nest for us on top of the book shelf," said Ms. Drozdowski, laughing. "I finally realized what was going on, and he had decided I was his wife!"

After caring for them for 18 years, Ms. Drozdowski has a special relationship with birds.

"They all become a little part of your heart," she said. "The attachment is very close. Once you work with them one-on-one, you can't look at them the same. They're such a magnificent way to get into nature."

She is especially grateful to the Audubon Society and the museum for Birds of Prey.

"It'll be rent free," she said. "We'll have water, electricity, maintenance. In Santa Barbara, that's just amazing."

For more information on Birds of Prey, visit

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