The Fandango Owl

This is a picture of the Fandango Owl, a Great Horned Owl that was rescued near Big Bend National Park many years ago.

The Zoo Education Animal Collection has a new Great Horned Owl.  Archimedes is about two years old and was rescued before it was determined that it was not healthy enough from its injuries to return to the wild. 

Great Horned Owls are important apex predators and are very common in many areas of the country.   Chances are if you hear an owl it night it will be a Great Horned Owl.  As they quietly soar across the night sky they prey on big and small animals including rodents, snakes, squirrels, porcupines, ducks, song birds and even other raptors such as Red-tailed Hawks.    They adapt well to urban areas like El Paso and inevitably get hurt flying into powerlines, vehicles and buildings.  Sometimes they get shot by people with guns who should know better since like all raptors they are a protected species.  When the Zoo re-opens we are planning to have Archimedes join other animals at the Zoo for special conservation education presentations in our Wildlife Amphitheater.

I have not had the opportunity to get to know Archimedes, but I do have a story to tell about an owl that I rescued many years ago.   Story telling is an important education tool and the Zoo would love to learn more about the stories you have to share about animals that live at the Zoo and in our area.  Perhaps you could even be a guest blogger on our website.

Summer of 1986, Alpine, Texas: 
Kevin Costner was coming to the Big Bend area to make a movie and the producers of the film “Fandango” needed a live owl. Becky Smith, the bus driver for the longest school bus route in the United States, from Terlingua to Alpine, had given me a Great Horned Owl that she had found alongside the road months earlier. It was in pretty bad shape when I received it from an apparent collision with a power line. After two months of rest and all the meat scraps from the local Safeway grocery store it could eat, the owl’s injuries healed quickly.

After spending the night at the Calvary Post in Lajitas, I was instructed to meet the film crew at sunrise at the Big Hill pull-off on the River Road to Presidio. Everyone was there, Kevin Costner, a number of actors I had never heard of, the camera crew, make-up people, an animal handler and some food service people who had parked a silver canteen truck close by. I’ll never forget eating my first plate of sushi out in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert on a hot spring day.

Unfortunately for the owl the sun had moved too fast in the morning to get the shots needed for a low light scene of the owl on a boulder. We had to wait all day for the sun to go down. During the wait I got to know the animal handler who told me all about the other animals that were needed for the film including armadillos, snakes, lizards, coyotes and a roadrunner. My owl was an important part of a camping scene when as is almost always the case, a hooting owl at night gets the attention of everyone around the campfire.

When the time came to get ready for our important scene I was instructed to bring the owl to a large boulder where the animal handler would set him on top. I asked him what would happen if the owl were to jump off the huge rock and fly away? The answer was simple, monofilament line was tied to it’s leg. If it jumped off we’d pick it up and try again.

Everything was ready, the cameras where set and as they began to roll film the owl was readied for his cameo. As quickly as the director said “action” the owl jumped off the rock, took one giant leap, broke the monofilament, and flew across the high walled canyon of the Rio Grande and on into Mexico, never to be seen again.

You won’t see an owl in the movie Fandango, but next time you drive the River Road (Texas 170) at night, stop alongside the pull-off at the Big Hill and listen. You might just hear that “Fandango” owl or one of its descendants hooting in the distance…a sound that I hope will forever be heard in the Rio Grande canyons of the Big Bend, long after Fandango and it’s cast are long forgotten.

Rick LoBello
Education Curator

This is a picture of a Great Horned Owl perched on a dead tree branch.

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