For Owl Aficionados, Super Bowl Goes to the Birds

Adam Welz with other birders

On Sunday, there was a different kind of hooting afoot than most have come accustomed to during the Super Bowl.

While many New Yorkers prepared to watch the Giants battle the Patriots in the Big Show,  some non-conforming bird-watchers took part in the Superb Owl event, a quest for the Great Horned Owl at an undisclosed location, in Brooklyn.

Filmmaker and birder Adam Welz, who led the group, said the intense secrecy over where these owls nest within the five boroughs has much to do with a certain literary series.

"With the whole Harry Potter phenomenon, people have become somewhat obsessed by owls," Welz said, "and that sometimes gets them unwelcome attention. So you don't want hundreds of people lining up and bothering them."

On Sunday, the group spotted two great horned owls nesting. But the sighting didn't come easy, as the owls effectively blend in with their environment.

"The owls are very cryptically colored," said Noah Burg, a graduate student in evolutionary biology who also works at the American Museum of Natural History. "Often times you can see them sitting there and they kind of look like the broken off part of a tree branch because of the way these ear tufts stick up."

Burg said the fact that the birds can be found "in the middle of New York City" is "awesome" and reaffirms that nature and humanity can co-exist.

But David Burg of the urban conservation group Wild Metro (and the father of Noah) noted that Great Horned Owls are fierce: they sit at the top of the bird food chain in the Northeast, and actually eat hawks and other birds.

And to drive home the point that they shouldn't be messed with, Welz noted that a number of ornithologists over the years have lost their eyes when studying the birds.

"The thing is to wear a full-face helmet and a Kevlar -- a light bullet proof vest -- because they will actually rake your back with their claws, as well as go for your face."