By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

The annual International Festival of Owls will take place in Houston, Minnesota April 30 – May 1, 2022.

“Despite a human pandemic, an avian pandemic, and a war, the 20th annual International Festival of Owls is still going to happen!” International Owl Center executive director Karla Bloem said recently. “It will look different than before as a result of the world’s turmoil.

“The festival has been moved from its normal early March dates to April 30 so it can be held outdoors,” Bloem added. “Instead of the high school, the primary venues will be the Houston Hoedown Days fest grounds and adjacent Houston Community Center. Nearly all festival events will take place on Saturday, April 30, except for a birding, geology and natural history bus trip that requires pre-registration and a sold-out photo session with the owls, both on Sunday.

As of Saturday, April 23, the decision was made to cancel the live owl program. A press release from the International Owl Center explained that “highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is nearly always fatal to raptors if they contract it, and HPAI is most often associated with water and wetlands.” Since the venue is immediately adjacent to a wetland and the stakes are high for the owls, the “very difficult decision was made to cancel the live owl programs scheduled for April 30-May 1 for the safety of the Owls.”

“World Owl Hall of Fame award winner Dr. Prachi Mehta from India will be speaking in person about her work with the adorable and very endangered Forest Owlet. For the safety of his family, due to the war in Ukraine Hall of Fame award winner Milan Ružić from Serbia will not be attending.

The center also canceled scheduled programs apart from the World Owl Hall of Fame program. Masks are strongly recommended in all indoor locations. 

“Families can still build an owl nest box with the scouts, dissect an owl pellet, make an owl craft, buy all kinds of fun owl merchandise from vendors, and participate in the kids owl calling contest.”

Here are the times of some events. Paid wristbands for the day are required at Fest Building and International Owl Center events. Vendors will be on site and face-painting will occur at the Houston Community Center on Saturday, April 30 from 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. 

Visitors can also stop by the International Owl Center from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Saturday. Kids crafts will be available at the Fest Building from 10:30 – 3:30 on Saturday, and the Fest Grounds will host nest box building ($45/box) and pellet dissections ($5/pellet) from 10:30 – 3:30 as well. At 2 p.m. kids can practice their owl hooting at the Fest Building, followed by the kids owl calling contest at the same site. 

At 7 p.m. on Saturday, a program by World Owl Hall of Fame Special Achievement Award Winner Dr. Prachi Mehta from India will be held at the International Owl Center, (pre-registration required). 

An all day “on your own: story stroll” featuring “Whoo-Ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story” by Maria Gianferrari (510 E. Cedar Street) is listed for both Saturday and Sunday.

The release also highlighted local food and beverages: Winking Owl Baked Goods, owl-themed beverages at Barista’s Coffee House, in-house roasted coffee at Carlson Roasting Company, owl-shaped pizzas at SubZero Pizza, and Brady’s pulled pork at River Valley Convenience Store.

A walk around town will reveal light poles adorned with kids’ owl art banners from around the world (three from Ukraine) and the Parade of Owls art tour featuring 12 public owl sculptures scattered throughout town. Kids will all want to check out the natural playground by the Houston Nature Center and/or the Mission 66 playground in City Park.

Pre-registration is required for the Sunday’s  Birding, Natural History & Geology bus trip (7 to 11 a.m.). The group will meet at Trailhead Park. Regular admission is required to visit the International Owl Center & gift shop, to view live owls and see the live owl program at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m.

The festival began as a hatch-day party for Alice the Great Horned Owl back in 2003, Bloem reported. “This year Alice has turned 25 and will be featured on the festival shirts,” she said. “Artwork from the children’s international owl art contest will also be on display and for sale.”

Please check the festival schedule before coming, and be aware there could be further changes to the schedule:

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