BY Piper Castillo
Times Staff Writer
It's a girl.
Matilda, the new owl at the George C. McGough Nature Park, is now officially, well, Matilda.
The 4-pound barred owl arrived at the park off Walsingham Road from the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in late October. The bird replaced 14-year nature park resident J.R., a great horned owl that was released by vandals this year and never found.
Seabird Sanctuary volunteers had nicknamed the bird Matilda, but nature park manager Joel Quattlebaum did not want to make the name official until everyone was sure the raptor was a female.
"Because of the size of the owl, we thought it was female, but only a blood test can say absolutely, positively,'' said Quattlebaum, 21.
So they called an expert.
About two weeks ago, Quattlebaum loaded the bird in an animal crate and took her to Dr. Rita Manarino of Steele Animal Hospital, who has a special interest in rabbits, birds, pocket pets and reptiles. She had offered to run the test, called a sexing test, for free.
Manarino wrapped Matilda in towels to keep the owl from flapping, and they quickly pricked one of her brachial veins, a wing vein, with a needle.
"She was calm, a good girl,'' said Manarino.
Now, Miss Matilda is back at work greeting visitors from her perch behind the nature center building.
In the coming weeks, Quattlebaum will put jesses — leather straps — around her legs.
"Then in a few weeks, we will take her to a City Commission meeting as her first public outing, and as soon as we feel she's comfortable, we'll begin including her in our classes with kids,'' he said.
Piper Castillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.