HOUSTON, Minnesota (WXOW) - This weekend, Houston, Minnesota will be transformed into a haven for owl lovers.
"All of the businesses in town will have will have colored owls decorating them," said Karla Bloem, director and naturalist at the Houston Nature Center.
And that's only part of it. Bloem has been preparing all year for the annual International Festival of Owls, and anticipates around 2000 people will pour into the small Minnesota town this weekend.
"It's [held] all over town," said Bloem. "Many people say ‘oh, so is it at the Nature Center?' And I just kind of chuckle, because our program room will hold 25 people, the festival last year brought in 1700 people over the course of the weekend and Houston only has 979 people living in it. It wasn't designed to hold that many people."
The International Festival of Owls started 11 years ago as a tribute to Alice, a Great Horned Owl that started work at the Houston Nature Center after being injured as a baby.
"I thought ‘well, let's do a hatch day party for her," said Bloem. "Everybody likes Alice and there's nothing going on in the beginning of March, so let's try it.' And things just went crazy from there. So she's the reason we have the Festival of Owls."
The festival has grown considerably since then.
"The first year we didn't do much for advertising and we had 300 people show up. And we thought ‘huh, we got something here.' And it's just snowballed from there, because there is just no other event like it anywhere in North America."
Now, 11 years later, that many people can be seen at a single program.
"Sometimes Saturday's programs are standing room only in the back of the gym because we've got over 500 people packed in there."
Festival activities range from face painting and a children's owl call contest to talks given by internationally accredited ornithologists. Bloem said the live owl shows are a crowd pleaser and this year owl experts are flying in from Kenya, Taiwan and Germany.
"It's a really neat marriage of bringing the scientific stuff together with the general public," said Bloem. "And I think that's what makes the festival really special. We do have all levels, but we bring them together. So, people who might not be exposed to this culture or scientific stuff otherwise are exposed to it at the festival. And they really enjoy it."
The festival also brings money into the community.
"It's good for the businesses in town because it's bringing money into town when there's no tourism going on at this time of year," said Bloem. "It's good for the Nature Center. This is our biggest fundraiser of the year, and it's a fun thing for families. It's educational and they're having fun at the same time
Bloem expects to see many familiar faces this year, as well as many new ones.
"Most of the people that come to the festival come back year after year," said Bloem. "After they've been here they love it so much it's just already in the schedule…Well, you have to say, the festival is a hoot."
The International Owl Festival starts on Friday, March 1st, and continues through Sunday, March 3rd. General adult admission costs $8, with additional fees for some programs and activities.
Alice the owl ended up in Houston after being injured as a baby. Alice will be turning 16 at the festival and lives with the Houston Nature Center's Director, Karla Bloem. Alice works at the Houston Nature Center as an educational bird and is allowed to live with Karla as her licensed handler. It is illegal to own owls as pets.
More information about Alice and the International Festival of Owls can be found at http://www.festivalofowls.com/index.html.
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