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Meet Jibini the adorable milky eagle owl

Posted by Elizabeth Bacher, Communications

Jibini at 1 month old and already a big boy! Photo: Elizabeth Bacher/Woodland Park Zoo

We’d love to introduce you to the newest, and youngest member of our Ambassador Team—although he is certainly not the smallest! At least not anymore. This is Jibini. He is a Verreaux eagle owl, more commonly known as a milky eagle owl—the first of his species at Woodland Park Zoo. Anytime you hear of a species that is called an ‘eagle owl,’ it immediately begs the question “is it an eagle or an owl”? The ‘eagle’ part is a size reference. This bird is technically a very large owl—one of the largest in the world actually!

A tiny Jibini at 13 days old. Photo: Regina Smith/Woodland Park Zoo
After arriving as an egg from Zoo Atlanta, where his parents live, Jibini hatched on January 28th under the watchful eye of our dedicated keepers. He was smaller than a tennis ball at the time and, like many bird species, he was mostly featherless except for some fuzzy down, and his eyes hadn’t opened yet. For the first few weeks, Jibini spent most of his time in an incubator to help keep him warm. Our keepers checked on him every couple hours round-the-clock to fill his tummy with nutritious bits of mice, talk to him, and make sure all his needs were being met.

WATCH VIDEO, From Egg to Jibini:

The milky eagle owl is not endangered, but—like many birds of prey that need large territories—it is threatened by habitat loss and is a very misunderstood species. It most likely earns its name from its distinctive bare whiteish-pinkish eyelids that are easily visible during a blink or a nap—a feature no other owl species has. And Jibini earned his name from that too. Our keepers, who have fallen head over wings for him, wanted to stay true to the dairy theme of the species name, so they chose to call him Jibini which means “cheese” in Swahili. Swalihi is one of the languages spoken in sub-Saharan Africa where this owl is a native species.

It is a myth that mice love to eat cheese—typically they don’t. But it’s 100% true that this “cheese” loves to eat mice! Jibini, like most owls, loves snacking on his “meesus pieces”. YUM! As he grows he will likely sample other favorite owl delicacies too, like quail, rat and rabbit. In nature, a milky eagle owl is an opportunistic predator—meaning that anything it catches can be on the menu. Common meals include hedgehogs, weasels, other birds, reptiles and amphibians like snakes and frogs. These giants of the raptor world can even prey on small monkeys!

Jibini at 21 days old. Photo: Regina Smith/Woodland Park Zoo
More than three months old now, Jibini is already full-grown with a wingspan of nearly 5 feet. Most young birds are the same size as adults by the time they’re able to take wing, and Jibini is no exception. At hatching, he weighed less than 2 ounces and now he is about 3.7 pounds. Birds that fly have hollow bones which makes them lighter, so 3.7 pounds may not seem heavy, but that is a lot of bird!

Adult female milky eagle owls are usually even bigger than the males. This tends to be the case with most raptor species, though researchers aren’t exactly sure why. Anyway, we decided to touch base with our friends at Dallas Zoo—where Jibini’s sister Hodari hatched a few days before he did—to see if there is already a difference. Hodari is just shy of 4 pounds at this time and just as gorgeous as her brother, don’t you think? We think they’re going to be pen pals, so stay tuned for more sibling updates in the future.

No sibling rivalry here! Our Jibini on left and sister Hodari at Dallas Zoo on right. Photos: Regina Smith/Woodland Park Zoo and Brenda Sanchez/Dallas Zoo
Jibini outgrew his original incubator “nest” pretty quickly so he recently moved into a spacious flight pen at Woodland Park Zoo’s Raptor Barn where he has plenty of room to stretch out and exercise those huge wings. His keepers tell us he’s a quick learner, is building more confidence every day and is ahead of the curve on reaching milestones. That means he’s already taking lots of short practice flights, hopping on and off of perching, and figuring out how to use his big feet for takeoffs, landings and grabbing hold of things. They say he is easy going, loves to participate in training sessions with all his keepers on the team, and has shown quite a talent for napping, even when lots of activity is going on around him—though we’re pretty sure he wakes up for snack time!

Jibini with keeper Krystle, at 3 months. Photo: Regina Smith/Woodland Park Zoo
While he looks to be enjoying some of our sunny spring days, Jibini also seems to love the Seattle rain. Our keepers watched as he took his first rain bath, standing on one of his outdoor perches—eyes wide open with wonder and stretching his wings out to soak up every drop ... then shaking it all off!

In the coming months, Jibini will continue to work with his keepers—they are his family—to master the most important role of being an ambassador animal: meeting and greeting people and helping to educate them about owls. We'll check in on his progress as he grows and will let you know how he’s doing. Hopefully it won’t be long before we can welcome you back to Woodland Park Zoo in person—and when we do, Jibini will be ready to meet you!


Unknown said…
Can’t wait to see him; I had no idea owls can be so big!
B. Marques said…
He's gorgeous!
S. Holmes said…
How was the egg shipped ? Also was this your first attempt ? Very good job in raising the little guy so far, I am really impressed with everybody involved. I am so proud to be a part of this, my Zoo.
Anonymous said…
So Handsome! Can't wait to see him up close!