When Things Speak: The Owl

The skull of a great horned owl from the Pioneers Park Nature Center's collection. (Photo by Jackie Sojico, NET Radio)
The skull, talon, and wings of a great horned owl from the Pioneers Park Nature Center's collection. (Photo by Jackie Sojico, NET Radio)
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January 10, 2015 - 8:30am

There are over 250 museums in Nebraska, and they all tell a slightly different story about our history. In Lincoln, 12 museums collaborated to tell that story together – using art, sculpture, quilts, and even owl skulls. This story is part of a series "When Things Speak" featuring curators and their stories about objects they chose for the Things Speak exhibit at the Sheldon Museum of Art.

Andrea Faas, coordinator at Pioneers Park Nature Center, tells us what she loves about the owl skull she picked for the exhibit.

Music used in this piece is "Private Hurricane (Instrumental Version)" by Josh Woodward / CC BY 3.0


The owl skull is only about 4 inches wide, and it’s a creamy tan kind of color, and it has the beak. I don’t believe it has the lower jaw on it. Just the upper jaw. It’s a very delicate little skull with huge eye sockets. Now, it’s missing the very delicate little eye bones.

Owls eyes are actually elongated. It’s kind of like a cylinder, almost like a soup can. And so those eye bones hold the eye in place, and the owls actually cannot move their eyes, so that’s why they’re able to turn their heads almost all the way around because they have these giant eyes that take up most of the skull.

(Photo courtesy Sheldon Museum of Art.)

The Things Speak Exhibit at the Sheldon Museum of Art is a collaborative exhibit featuring storied objects from 12 museums in Lincoln. Things Speak is open until February 8. After February 8, all objects in the exhibit will return to their home collections.

Learn more about Pioneers Park Nature Center.

It’s a great horned owl, and so it’s the largest owl we have resident in Nebraska. I think a number of people don’t realize we have great horned owls throughout Nebraska. People think that they have to be out in this wild area, which certainly this is the ideal habitat for them. But a lot of animals will make their home wherever they can, wherever they find the right conditions. If there are some trees, some animals to feed on, water source, they’re gonna try and habitat there.

We certainly find them all around. Owls could be in their own backyard or city park. This time of year in the winter, they’re starting to call. They’re setting up their territories. They’re trying to find their mate. So in the early evenings, at 5 o’clock when I’m leaving here for the day, I’ve heard the owls calling at night. So it’s pretty soft. It can be very distant. They are certainly the typical hooting owl that we’re used to hearing. They do the "hoo hoo, hoo hoo."

Once you hear it, you’re like oh! That sounds familiar!

When I started my career working in nature centers — I started at the Fontanelle Forest Nature Center in Bellevue — and we had a number of birds on exhibit. That’s when I started working on handling birds, and I still handle them here. It’s just really amazing to be able to put on the leather gloves and get a hold of the bird, hold him by the jesses, which are these little leather straps that go on their ankles, and hold them close and take a very close look at them. And then to share that bird with other people, and when they get to see a bird so up close there isn’t the barrier of a fence between them, or the bird isn’t far away in the tree, but just so close. When we see it in captivity, they’re very large. They almost look like they’re furry because of the different feathers.But then when you see this tiny little skull and realize that this bird is so much of feathers! They have hundreds of feathers on them.

It's just very powerful to look at them, see the beak and the talons and a lot of people think, "oh, they’re just such sweet owls!" I have to remind them they are powerful predators.

They’re just amazing birds. And there’s a lot of mystery around them, so I wanted people to get an idea of what is this bird. It’s really an amazing thing to get to work closely with the birds and to care for them and know that we’re responsible for them. They’re educators for others, to help people understand we want to take care of our native habitats, because these are the wonderful animals that exist in those habitats.



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