Hollaway, who is known to many as “Big Dave,” brought two different species of animals that can be found in Alabama — birds of prey and reptiles — for the children to see up close and personal, even touch.
“I am a Naturalist, which is a scientist who studies nature, and I feel very blessed, because in Alabama, where we live, we are super-blessed with a whole bunch of nature,” Hollaway told the children. “When we put all that nature together it’s called biodiversity, and Alabama is very rich with biodiversity.”
Going back to the subject of biodiversity, Hollaway said Alabama has four different species of owls: the barred, screech, horned and barn owls, and all four are protected under the federal laws which protect birds of prey.
“Owls all have a round face or facial disc which is connected to their hearing. They are also famous for turning their heads 270 degrees while searching for food,” Hollaway said. “Owls, which are AWESOME, also fly in total silence and have super soft feathers that allow them to do that.”
Hollaway told the children that to be a bird of prey or raptor, owls also have two special tools — they must have a curved beak and very sharp talons (claws). He then let each child do something that many people will probably never get to do, and that was touch a federally protected bird of prey.
“All owls have a niche, or job, which is to eat rats, mice and snakes, but the horned owl also eats ground hogs, raccoons, possum, and even shunks,” Hollaway said. “Horned owls have no sense of smell, which allows them to eat shunks, but the barred, screech, and barn owls do have a sense of smell.”
Hollaway told the children the grip of a great horned owl also has four hundred pounds of pressure per square inch. “A daddy, or grown man, only has one hundred pounds per square inch,” Hollaway said. “So technically, a great horned owl is stronger than four daddys put together. That’s some gnarly power.”
He also let the children touch an “elaphe guttata” or corn snake, just one of the many snakes which are native to Alabama.
“We have 40 different species of snakes in Alabama, and out of that 40, only six are venomous. They are the eastern diamondback, timber and dusky pigmy rattlesnakes, and the copperhead, cottonmouth, and coral snakes,” Hollaway said. “And for grown-ups information, the cottonmouth and water moccasin are the same snake and the timber rattlesnake, velvet tail, and cane snake are also the same snake.”
Hollaway has worked for Camp McDowell for more than seven years and leads classes and workshops about environmental education. He also supervises the care of injured wildlife through rehabilitation at McDowell, including the two owls he brought Tuesday to show during the Summer Reading Program at the Sumiton Library.