By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Cooperstown artist May-Britt Joyce knows a muse when she sees one.
“I’ve been doing pet portraits for the Susquehanna SPCA,” she said. “But the Rockefeller Owl intrigued me; she was so sweet looking and so different.”
Rockefeller, the Saw-whet Owl found in “Daddy Al” Dick’s Rockefeller Center-bound Christmas tree, has captured the hearts of Otsego County – and the nation.
Nicknamed “Rocky,” the diminutive raptor was featured on CNN and in the Washington Post. The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame made a figure of her.
She made international media, including Tagesschau, Germany’s oldest news broadcast. The requests for interviews got so big that Ravensbeard Wildlife Center hired a PR Firm, Karbo Communications, to handle Rockefeller’s press.
The fandom began on Wednesday, Nov. 18, when Ravensbeard Wildlife Center in Saugerties posted on Facebook that it had received a phone call that a small owl had been rescued from the 75-foot-tall West Oneonta Norway Spruce after it arrived in Manhattan.
“These guys are so small and they like to hug right up next to the center of the tree,” said Kathryn Davino, Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society board member. “He probably just hunkered down, and then got caught in a cage of branches when they were wrapping up the tree.”
Nicknamed “Rockefeller,” – “or Rocky, to her friends,” Ravensbeard said – the owl, the smallest breed in the Northeast, has been eating “all the mice she can eat” and was reported to be in good health with no injuries.
“When we picked Rocky up she was struggling,” said Ellen Kalish, Ravensbeard Wildlife Center director and founder. “We believe it had been about three days since she ate or drank anything. The first order of business was to give her fluids and feed her all the mice she could eat.
“She was underweight so we assumed at the time she was male, as males typically weigh less – on average only 75 grams (2.6 ounces) – while females typically weigh a little more, about 100 grams (3.5 ounces). So it was a surprise to find out Rocky was a girl.”
It was initially reported Rockefeller would be released in Oneonta over the weekend, but that turned out not to be the case. She was released Tuesday night, Nov. 24, in a conifer forest
near Saugerties, as recommended by avian experts and researchers. She’s expected to continue her
migration south from there.
“People are adamant that she come back (to Oneonta),” said Davino. “While Saw-whet owls are found here, they are migratory, so to bring her back here, further north than Saugerties, would bebacktracking, and the travel would further stress her out. We have to think about what’s best for her.”
But Rocky’s discovery has inspired Davino to look into building a nest box in hopes of seeing a Saw-whet Owl of her own. “The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has instructions, as well as how to place them and where.”
They like to nest in coniferous groves near water, Davino said. “They’re rarely seen, but if you build a nest-box, you might see one of your own!”
But even before you build your box, you could own Joyce’s painting, which goes up for auction on Friday, Nov. 27, at the Family Tree Gallery, 171 Main St., Cooperstown.
Bidding starts at $50 and bids can be emailed to email@example.com, with all proceeds going to the Susquehanna Animal Shelter.
“I grew up in New Jersey, so as a kid, I used to go to Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center,” Joyce said. “So I felt a real kinship with him.”