“ALL the crazy cat ladies were taken, so I chose owls.”
These were the words of Invercargill woman Gloria Harris, the self-proclaimed owl enthusiast who has been caring for injured moreporks and little owls for more than 30 years
A former Department of Conservation employee, her journey began when she spotted an owl for the first time, sitting on the powerlines at her semi-rural property.
After befriending the Queens Park aviary keeper at the time, she was given an injured owl to take care of and coached on how to care for it.
Since then, she had nursed and released more than 300 of the species on her own.
“I’ve never had a fail with a chick.
“But if it’s been caught by a cat or a dog, you can only ever deal with what you’re presented with.”
Well-known in the Southland community for her expertise and skills, she quickly became the go-to person when a lost or hurt owl was found.
From neighbours to conservation organisations, as well as multiple people she had never met, she was relied on for her knowledge.
Once the owls arrived, they were put into a cat carry-box until they were big enough to live in the aviary, housed in the garden.
All hand-fed, their diets consisted of moths, huhu grubs, mice and an array of different bugs.
“I’m often up at 1am catching the moths.
“I can’t bring myself to touch the huhu grubs, I use these big, long tweezers to pick them up.”
As for the bigger owls, they were taught to forage for the food to prepare them for release.
“It used to bother me, I was worried I wasn’t teaching them what their parents could but they do pick it up once they’re released.”
One owl in particular returned to her home the first time it had ever happened.
“He was sitting right in the middle underneath my car.”
For the past few weeks, he had lived in the aviary in anticipation for his trip back into the wild.
When the owls were ready to be released, the aviary was designed so they could fly away at night when it was time.
One little owl in particular stole her heart.
“He imprinted on me, he used to nibble my hair and my bracelets.
“I was bawling for ages when I let him go.”
Despite her love for the animal, it was getting harder to take care of them as her life got busier.
While she was not ready to give it up, she was open to taking on keen bird handlers willing to lend a helping hand.