Fly Peacefully: Olive’s Legacy

August 15, 2023

It is with a heavy heart we share the news that our beloved barred owl, Olive, has passed away. She was euthanized due to complications from her original wing injuries. This has been tremendously difficult for our education team and the organization as a whole. Her story is an example of our work to protect native wildlife as she was the pillar of what we stand for and a symbol of our mission.

Olive’s Tale

Olive was transferred to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital in 2017 from a wildlife center in Sarasota. Olive had been found in a field in very poor health and her left wing fractured. It was suspected that she was the victim of a vehicle strike. Olive’s injuries deemed her non-releasable and she was brought to the Conservancy as an education ambassador. We made the decision to take care of her as a resident animal and in return, she made an impact on not only our staff members, but the public as well.

A Word From Our Caretakers

From Nerissa

Birds of prey require a lot of patience and many months were spent just getting her comfortable with me in her enclosure. I worked with her to come to the glove, scale for weigh-in, and even crate for medical assessments. She would only come to me when she wanted. But eventually, she learned auditory cues and came down to get her favorite snacks while we could check her weight and behaviors.

“Olive was such a smart owl and taught me so much about bird of prey training. She will be missed by many and I am honored to have been one of the ones to work with her.”

Nerissa Bixler, Educator (2019-2022)

My favorite training memory with Olive was being able to get her to come to the crate and sit next to her while hand feeding her. It was comforting to know she might have started to understand the steps we were using to train her.

From Sam

I vividly remember one day being so frustrated with the aquariums, so I went to feed Olive for an escape. At this point, I had been training Miss Olive for over two years with little progress. I stepped into her habitat and she eagerly approached me on her perch. Without the hesitation I normally saw from her, she hopped right on my glove for a tasty piece of rat. This was the first time she stayed on my glove the entire session. I was elated and felt so accomplished.

In the animal care world we try not to anthropomorphize animals, but Olive was a strong-willed owl.

Anthropomorphize: Attribute human characteristics or behavior to an animal or object.

“In the almost 3 years I worked with her, she was hesitant to trust and constantly tested my patience, but she was also a daily reminder that I love seeing these animals learn and watching people learn from these amazing animals!”

Sam Easterling, Animal Care Coordinator (2017-2021)

From Paul

Olive doesn’t trust easily. She came to the Conservancy as an adult, so she had a whole life avoiding and distrusting humans. It took me almost a year to earn her trust. I remember the first time she stepped on to my glove and I was able to lift her up into the air for a few moments. After all this hard work, we really started to bond. 

Then Hurricane Ian hit and we went back to square one.

We had to take her inside for safety. By the time she went back to her enclosure, she would run away from me and wouldn’t eat food from me. Seeing my relationship with Olive falter so much made me emotional, but I was not going to give up.

I spent a lot of time standing in her enclosure and just talking to her over the next several days.

I told her about the storm and about how sorry I was that she had to go through that. I told her about how when I first got to campus after the storm, the generators weren’t working and our team scrambled and worked so hard to keep all the animals alive. I told her about how I cried when the generators came back online and the pumps were flowing again.

“I told her about how I was going to be there for her. I told her about how the city was devastated and how everyone was coming together to help each other out. I didn’t realize it at the time, but having her to talk to was incredibly meaningful to me. She helped me through the aftermath of the storm.”

Paul Leingang, Animal Care Coordinator (2021-2023)

I will never forget when she finally took food from me again. I offered her a rat, she looked up at me for a few moments, and then took it and started eating. She was trusting me again. I remember standing there and telling her thank you.

I will miss you, Olive. I hope you’re flying around somewhere nice.

From Tonya

I was lucky enough to work with Olive during all 5 years of my time here at the Conservancy. It was always interesting and rewarding to train with her, building up a trusting relationship. Some of my favorite memories with Olive were trying different enrichment tools. Bubbles were one of her favorite items to look at!

Olive played an essential part in connecting people with the beauty of our natural world. Her presence served as a bridge between human understanding and the delicate balance of our ecosystem. 

“I am grateful for the moments I shared with Olive and the mark she left on our guests will continue to inspire many.”

Tonya Zadronzy, School Programs Manager (2017-now)

Olive was a wonderful and amazing ambassador bird. She taught thousands of people about wildlife, wildlife injuries, and owls in particular. She will be greatly missed by the people who adore her and the education team.

Conservancy video from 3 years ago with Nerissa, Sam and Tonya caring for Olive