Remembering Cosmo

They say good things come in small packages. In this case, they also came with soft, white feathers and a sweet apple-shaped face. Cosmo was adored by all.

As with most Barn Owls, he had quite the résumé of vocalizations. His most common, though, was a chipper chirp, often so quiet it felt like he was speaking just to the ears of his trainer, a sacred conversation.

On a chilly spring day, his best mate, and our aviary coordinator, Joe Whitehead, started training him through a new behavior — much for the enriching experience of the process. Joe simultaneously encouraged dynamic duo Shannan, our herpetarium coordinator, and Matilda, the black vulture, to race them to completion as a lighthearted competition. This behavior was named the “spin” and the bird was to be taught to pivot in a circle on their perch on a verbal and visual cue. Though Joe and Cosmo were not the first to succeed in this challenge (like the broken barnyard bass clock displayed in his mew, he was always on his own schedule), it was just the beginning of what would become Cosmo’s most voluntarily offered behavior.

In time, during his training sessions, Cosmo seemed to demonstrate this behavior often and to his heart’s content. If a trainer took a moment longer than Cosmo’s liking between cuing behaviors, he would voluntarily pivot on the perch and proudly stand tall, awaiting his highly deserved piece of food. He also seemed to keep this smooth move in his back pocket for when he kindly rejected what was being asked of him — he’d instead offer a spin move as his constellation prize, leaving his trainers with chuckles and sighs of that all-known adoration. My personal favorite use of this move, however, was when he free-styled with it — when asked to walk across a platform, he sometimes combined his walk with a spin, like a graceful waltz between points A and B. Mr. Tiny Dancer.

Over the years, Cosmo educated the Shaver’s Creek community in various ways. Being an ambassador owl, he represented the unique Tytonidae family and helped people understand the keen senses of owls and their amazing adaptations. He connected the public with Shaver’s Creek’s local Barn Owl conservation efforts and supported representation of the Pennsylvania Farmland Raptors Project. His impact now lives on in nature journals and family photo albums, as beloved memories of those who visit Shaver’s Creek.

It’s never easy losing a loved one, but there is always a little comfort and peace in the acceptance of knowing when it’s time to say goodbye. Cosmo called Shaver’s Creek home for 16 years, making him at least 18 years old this last summer, four times the life expectancy of a wild Barn Owl. His care needs increased through his geriatric years. His mobility and feather condition started showing his age. We found ourselves knowing his time with us ultimately came second to his comfort.

I want to thank our staff for their commitment to animal welfare, including the hard but responsible decisions that come with it. The attunement, attention to detail, and active solidarity in working together to ensure our animals experience the highest quality of life under our care is essential and appreciated.

We send our deepest condolences to those who are affected by Cosmo’s farewell. We all have an apple-shaped hole in our hearts that we grieve and cherish. I know many of you have connected with this sweet Little Man for his sweet 16 years with us and we hope you’ll celebrate his memory alongside us.

Cosmo posing beside a paper heart with the words "Owl always love you" written on it

For anyone interested in making a donation in remembrance of Cosmo, please consider becoming an Honorary Animal Caretaker. Donations will go on to support all of our avian ambassadors.