February 24, 2020
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Farewell to Byron, a famous Maine owl

Community Author: Chewonki
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Byron the Barred Owl dies after 27 years of educating Maine students (1990-2018)

WISCASSETT — Chewonki has lost a legend: Byron the Barred Owl (Strix varia) whose dignity, serenity, and beauty riveted more than 80,000 Maine school children in live classroom visits over the years, died peacefully on Jan. 6 of natural causes. Byron’s fame as a wildlife ambassador was only exceeded by her exceedingly long life –barred owls in captivity generally live to the age of 23 years; Byron was 27.

“She was one of the sweetest, gentlest animals I’ve ever known,” adds Siobhan Prout, a member of the Chewonki staff. “She spent 27 years as an ambassador for her species and Chewonki and inspired tens of thousands of students and adults to appreciate the beauty, strength, and resilience of the natural world.”

Byron arrived at Chewonki in 1990 as a rescue animal, having been wounded in the right wing as a yearling, and delivered to Brunswick veterinarian Amy Wood. The wing was damaged beyond repair. Wood knew the owl might not survive amputation and if it did, it would never fly again.

Wood took off the wing. After the operation, the owl was delivered to Chewonki to recuperate in an aviary alongside other non-releasable (due to permanent incapacitation of one kind or another) wild animals that the Traveling Natural History Program staff care for and integrate into educational programs. She had already acquired the name Lord Byron, Wood’s passing reference to the English Romantic poet who wrote, “There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society where none intrudes, By the deep Sea, and music in its roar: I love not Man the less, but Nature more…” When it became clear the owl was female, Lord was dropped. Byron stuck.

“I remember Byron’s arrival at Chewonki,” former Chewonki naturalist Lynne Flaccus recalls. “We opened the box and looked down into those dark, beautiful eyes and bright yellow beak and she didn’t make a peep. No bill clapping, no defensive behaviors. She just stepped up onto a glove and looked around. We were all amazed … Tough little nugget she was!”

The owl recovered, then thrived. Staff found her easy to work with and self-possessed in front of crowds. She became a star, accompanying Chewonki educators all over Maine and beyond as they presented natural history lessons in schools, libraries, veterans’ homes, elder housing — anywhere there was a request for owl education, averaging 153 live appearances every year — an impressive record for any performer.

Byron was a particular favorite with younger children who seemed taken by the story of an owl who couldn’t fly. Many classrooms would send in fan mail, pictures and even “prosthetic wings” crafted from paper and glue.

“Her personality was majestic, really mellow,” says Emma Balazs, program coordinator. “She was a favorite of all of us because of that extraordinary personality and her tolerance for any situation … She fostered a deep connection.”

Chewonki is sad to bid farewell to one of the longest-serving members of its team, and expressed appreciation for the big impact Byron had on the lives of so many young Maine children.