The internet has been on fire circulating pictures of an owl 'hugging' the man who rehabilitated him. With anything involving wild animals, it's really important to be skeptical of what is actually going on.
Doug Pojesky, the president of the Mississippi animal rehabilitation center Wild at Heart Rescue, recently cared for a great horned owl named Gigi. Gigi is believed to have been hit by a car, suffering extensive head trauma and a pneumonia-like respiratory illness. Thanks to dedicated care from the Wild at Heart staff, Gigi was able to make extraordinary progress toward recovery. She has since been released back into the wild.
Before her release, Pojesky, who was an integral part of Gigi's rehabilitation, was away from the center for a few days on a family vacation. When he returned and saw Gigi, the staff reported on Facebook that "she threw both wings around him and gave him an owl hug."
Of course, it's a great story and a great picture, but is that what really happened?
Pointing out that something might not be as cuddly as it seems isn't a buzzkill. It's being responsible.
While humans may show affection by wrapping their arms around someone, birds do not do that. Yes, they are certainly sensitive animals capable of showing their emotions, but are far more likely to show affection by regurgitating their food (because everybody loves a snack), preening, or nuzzling.
Dianna Flynt of the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey told Huffington Post, the postures Gigi shows in the photos are similar to natural behaviors that the owls do anyway unrelated to affection, but could be exaggerated because of her injuries.
Owls aren't known for being snuggly; they're known for being excellent predators. While Pojesky certainly appears to be a trained expert who develops rapport with the animals he treats, the average person would be well-advised to not put a bird of prey so close to their face. Their talons are sharp and strong enough to grab and hold their prey, which can do some serious damage.
Not sure if you should interact with a bird? Find out here.
Cover image: Wild At Heart Rescue