It was just starting to get dark as we set out on the trail during the Leslie Science & Nature Center Owl Prowl. Raptor program director Francie Krawcke said a nesting pair of eastern screech owls had been spotted the previous week. Armed with an electronic caller, Krawcke challenged the owls’ territory by playing a recording of an eastern screech owl call. She called into all four directions from several different locations in the woods, and we waited for a response. Nothing. The closest we came was a shadow of an owl seated quietly in an oak tree by the golf course—which turned out to be a dummy owl. (It looked pretty convincing in the dark.)

Back at the Nature House, wildlife curator and lead naturalist David Clipner began the presentation part of the evening. All the raptors at Leslie Science and Nature Center have suffered a permanent injury that makes them unable to survive in the wild, so they have been rescued and trained for education programs.

The first owl David brought out looked like the cutest little eastern screech owl that he told us was definitely not cute. “I’m not cute.” Despite its adorable face, he assured us, it is a fierce predator that can catch and crush an incredible amount for its size.

When David moved his arm that held the owl up and down, the owl’s neck seemed to elongate as its head stayed in place. Again, so cute. “I’m not cute.” This adaptation allows the owl to keep its eyes focused on its prey as it sits on a branch swaying in the wind.

Next he showed us a barred owl, its beak crooked from injury. Then he brought a barn owl, its big white sweetheart face belying its past as an abused pet. Finally, he brought out the great horned owl and reminded us that the tufts on its head are not ears.

He also showed us a preserved owl wing that, no matter how hard he flapped it, amazingly made no noise. This adaptation allows the owl to stealthily fly close to its prey. He also passed around the feather of a turkey vulture. Since turkey vultures are scavengers rather than hunters, they do not need to be stealthy fliers. One turkey vulture feather made much more noise than a whole owl wing.

At the end of the evening, Krawcke rushed back in to report that the second group to go out into the woods had found the eastern screech owls. She excitedly offered to take the rest of us back out to call the owls again. So off we went for more.

The 2014 Owl Prowl is March 14 & 15.