DENVER––Working to conserve the western screech owl, boreal owl, northern pygmy owl, and northern saw-whet owl, the Teton Raptor Center was honored on March 12, 2014 by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for contributions toward the well-being of some of the most familiar owls in folklore.
The Fish & Wildlife Service-sponsored Wings Across the Americas Conservation Awards program recognized the Teton Raptor Center for screening every opening in every latrine in Grand Teton National Park, U.S. Forest Service land in Wyoming, Wyoming state land, and Teton County land.
“Small owls, cavity nesters, are drawn to the openings in vault toilets, which are sprinkled across the landscape in remote areas without plumbing,” explained Mike Koshmrl of the Jackson Hole News & Guide. “A number of owls deaths in the area have been attributed to the toilets, prompting the Raptor Center’s now award-winning Port-o-Potty Owl Project,” Koshmrl said.
Founded by field biologists and environmental educators Roger Smith and Margaret Creel in 1997, the Teton Raptor Center is located at the Hardeman Ranch, an historic 137-acre farm with 70-year-old barns belonging to the Jackson Hole Land Trust.
The apparent first mention in print of owls becoming trapped in latrines as a conservation issue appeared in the Idaho Falls Post Register only one year earlier, on March 14, 2013.
Observations of owls living in and around latrines, however, occurred almost as early as owls appear in art and written mythology, often extended to the notion of owls as guardians of entrances to the underworld. Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of dung, good luck, and prosperity, traditionally has an owl as her companion and steed. The association of latrine owls with foolish or crazy people, familiar in U.S. folklore since at least the 19th century, also appears early in Indian and Nepali literature.
Owls appear to be attracted to latrines hunt the rodents who forage in dung for undigested food particles. Latrine structures provide a convenient perching place for owls. Screening latrines is unlikely to alter owls’ normal hunting habits, but will protect smaller owls from the temptation to pursue rodents who escape a swoop into openings from which an owl cannot back out, and within which the owl cannot turn around.