There’s a new Bert in town.
Bert Raynes, Jackson Hole’s most beloved bird watcher who died on New Year’s Day, has had his first name bestowed upon the Teton Raptor Center’s newest avian ambassador, a Northern saw-whet owl.
The young hatch-year owl was originally behind a home in Rexburg, Idaho, and had a left wing injury that impaired his ability to fly. Fortunately, Raptor Center veterinarians decided the affliction would not cause the bird long-lasting pain, and in December the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the nonpofit’s application to make the owl “an ambassador for its species.”
While Raptor Center patients are given only date and species code identifiers, its avian ambassadors are given unique names. The public voted on a variety of monikers — which included Rex (referring to the location where the saw-whet was discovered), Sawyer (referring to the owl’s common name), and Wilson (in honor of the hamlet that’s home to the Raptor Center) — but Raynes fans pushed for an alternative option: to name the bird after Jackson Hole’s own “Big Bird.”
“The name ‘Bert’ for our newest avian ambassador offers a strong conservation message, allowing us to share the story of a charismatic birder and naturalist who inspired thousands of people to discover the natural world right in their own backyard,” said Amy McCarthy, the Teton Raptor Center’s executive director.
While Raynes was a tall man, Bert the owl belongs to one of the smaller owl species. According to Meghan Warren, the Raptor Center’s avian care director, the bird of prey weighs only 100 grams, which is about two-thirds the weight of a baseball. Nonetheless, his feisty personality more than makes up for his size. Smaller owls tend to be scrappy, Warren said, because they need confidence to hunt prey that are almost the same size as them.
“It’s kind of funny, but I think Bert would get a kick out of it,” Warren said. “I think he was known for having a big personality, and I would say this little saw-whet owl also has a lot of personality.”