Hunting can be dangerous for predator and prey alike. Take it from Greta, a great horned owl.
Focused on capturing a meal one night, Greta did not see or hear a train speeding into her path of flight.
She was hit, but in a recovery that children’s book author Christie Gove-Berg called “miraculous,” Greta survived the crash and was eventually released back into the wild.
Now the owl is the subject of Gove-Berg’s third raptor recovery book. Stories in the series are based on true tales of injury and rehabilitation. The first, “Esther the Eaglet,” featured a young eagle found near Osceola by Gove-Berg’s parents, Peter and Mary Gove. The second, “Maggie the One-Eyed Peregrine Falcon,” told the story of a Virginia peregrine. After an injury left her with only one eye, Maggie became an educational bird at the Wildlife Center of Virginia.
Upon finishing Maggie’s tale, Gove-Berg found her next story through newfound contacts at the wildlife center.
“I was talking with the director of education at the Wildlife Center of Virginia,” she recalled. “I said, ‘We need to do one more,’ and we both agreed owl. There’s something mystical or mysterious about owls. Kids seem to love them and they’re a little bit of a different kind of raptor.”
They settled on the great horned owl, well known for its iconic hoot, plumicorns (earlike feathered tufts), and wide distribution.
“They’re found all over the United States,” Gove-Berg said. “It’s an owl you could actually see in your back yard or locally at your raptor center.”
When closing in on prey, owls are vulnerable to being hit by vehicles. The hunt demands singular focus.
“It’s very common because they’re hunting at night and a roadway can seem like an open field,” Gove-Berg said.
In Greta’s case, the owl was hit by a train and carried to the roundhouse, where the train finally stopped. Eventually, the owl was found and brought to the Wildlife Center of Virginia.
“This bird was kind of miraculous because it had two broken bones and was still able to be rehabilitated,” Gove-Berg said.
The Forest Lake author noted that writing about raptor recovery has brought insights over time.
“I’ve come to see that these books show people how close we are to these animals,” she said. “You really don’t see owls very often, but they’re right there. They share the same space with us even in urban environments. I think it’s more of a recognition that these wild critters are our neighbors and we’re sort of obligated to try not to hurt them and take care of them if we do. I’ve enjoyed seeing people learn about places like raptor centers and there is this work going on a lot of people don’t know about.”
Gove-Berg, who donates a portion of book sales to The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota and The Wildlife Center of Virginia, said she’s not sure yet whether the raptor recovery series will continue.
“I won’t really say no,” she said. “I think a vulture story would be really cool because they’re kind of a vilified raptor. Right now I feel very content with three books, but my original plan was to write one about each kind of raptor, which would be seven.”
“Greta the Great Horned Owl” officially launches April 27 at Scout and Morgan bookstore in Cambridge, Minnesota. Gove-Berg encourages readers to ask if the book will be sold at their local bookstore and, if so, purchase there. It is also available via Amazon.