Traveling around Houston County it isn’t out of the ordinary to hear or see an owl.
In 1996, Karla Bloem was tasked with creating an attraction for visitors who would come to the city’s Root River Trail.
A year later, Bloem found Alice, an injured great horned owl, and her program was born.
Over the years the international owl center has grown to become a destination in the city.
The center continually draws a crowd, in part due to the unfamiliarity of the bird.
“Because they’re very good at not being seen, they’re very cryptic and if you do happen to see them, if you’re lucky enough, very often it’s around a nest and you get to see all kinds of animated behavior,” said Bloem who is the executive director of the International Owl Center. “They’re very expressive so I think it’s because they’re kind of mysterious because you rarely see them and if you do they’re so fascinating and expressive.”
Every march the center holds an international festival of owls. The event has grown from bringing 300 tourists in the first year, to thousands of visitors in past few.
The guests aren’t just coming from Minnesota either.
“When we had people within a few years flying in from around the country we thought okay apparently nobody else in America is doing this so then we built on the festival and added more and more things until it was a full weekend festival and now we normally have people fly in from all over the country.”
Over the 20 plus years the center has taken care of several owls including multiple different species of owls who live in the city and travel to the center daily
Everybody comes to the center because they want to see live owls and we have small, medium, large and extra large owls for people to see when they come here. We have wings and tails that people can actually touch, we have mounted specimen of nine different species.
Several of the owls also participate in programs throughout the day.
The center hopes to continue educating guests on the species and also make them aware of some of the myths surrounding the bird.
“Almost every owl book out there has over-generalizations and misinformation in it so that’s some of the stuff that we help untangle when people visit here,” said Bloem.
Bloem has discovered this throughout her years of research.
She has also been studying great horned owl vocalization since 2004 and is one of the first to do so.
The center has grown bigger than Bloem could have imagined when she started in the mid 90s.
“Because the owl festival was the only of its kind it just grew and grew and grew, so far that what we were doing at the nature center was way beyond the scope of the city owned and operated nature center, so we started the separate non-profit international owl center in 2015,” said Bloem.
The center is open Friday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Bloem says the are in the process of expanding into a new facility that will benefit both the birds and the visitors.