They're territorial, eat rodents, and could pierce the human skull with their talons.
Despite that, people in Pasadena are raising money to help save four injured owls at Downs Memorial Park.
Since October, about 30 adults and three area elementary schools have joined in an adopt-an-owl program launched by the Friends of Downs Park volunteer group.
The park's goal is to shelter the birds in their natural habitat without "Bambi-izing" them, said Ranger Bill Offutt.
The birds aren't being given cute names, and no one is turning them into pets. "We don't want people to think that they're these sweet, adorable creatures," Offutt said. "They're wild, predatory animals, and they should be treated as such."
The adults have raised about $500 to help keep the owls in mice for a while.
"It feels good doing something community-oriented," said John Barbour, who, with his wife, Jerri, belongs to the Anne Arundel Bird Club. "We feel like we're doing something worthwhile."
Linthicum, Marley and Overlook Elementary schools have started "Pennies for the Owls" and are collecting coins from students to help pay the birds' food and doctor bills.
In the spring, the class from each school that has donated the most money will get a field trip to the park to see the owls, Judi Long, coordinator of the schools program, said.
Linthicum has raised about $1,100, Long said. Overlook has donated more than $150 and Marley has raised about $100.
Long said the children are learning to respect the owls as wild animals and to help protect them by not leaving litter at the sides of roads, where it attracts owls seeking food. Many owls are struck by cars.
"They're getting an education about the right thing to do to save the environment and to help the animals," she said.
The park received the owls -- a male and a female great horned owl and a male and a female screech owl -- from Gerda Deterer, who founded Wild Bird Rescue in Baltimore, said Offutt.
Great horned owls can measure up to 25 inches tall with a 55-inch wingspan. Their feathers are gray, and the birds have prominent, widely spaced ear tufts that resemble horns.
The screech owls are about 10 inches tall. They have rust-colored plumage and round yellow eyes.
The screech owls have been at the park since November, Offutt said. The male was found inside a chimney, starving and with parasitic worms in his stomach.
The female was found by a CSX engineer from Pasadena, who discovered her starving in the box car of a freight train from Georgia.
Offutt said both owls are eating well and should be released in the spring.
The great horned owls will not be released. The male lost his left eye and will never be able to fly because of a broken left wing, Offutt said.
The female, born last year, was taken from her nest by someone who wanted to keep the fledgling as a pet -- a bad idea, Offutt said.
"When you do that, the bird doesn't mature," he said. "She acts like a young bird, expects to be fed by her parents, and approaches humans. She can't fend for herself because she doesn't know how to hunt."
It's expensive to take care of owls. Offutt said local Boy Scouts built the existing raptor pen and are building a large aviary, but the park still needs funds to feed the owls.
The great horned owls consume 10 to 15 mice a day, while the screech owls eat about four a day. At 45 cents a mouse, that's a lot of pennies.
Pub Date: 1/31/97