FAIRFIELD — Kids and animals are a pretty common combination.
Throw Jelly Belly into the mix and that means one thing – the Suisun Wildlife Center brought some of its residents to meet guests at the confectioner’s local visitor’s center.
About 200 people packed into the Grand Bean Room to meet Milo the screech owl, Pogo the opossum and Slim, a California gopher snake.
Pogo was the Ogle family favorite.
“He’s super cute,” said 8-year-old Lindsay Ogle. Her older sister Lauren Ogle, 10, agreed.
Mom Sara Ogle also admitted to a fondness for the marsupial, but was also impressed by the great horned owl.
“It had such a presence,” she said of the bird.
The family lives in Fairfield and went to the visitor’s center just to see the animals, Sara Ogle said.
They were joined by friends and fellow Fairfield resident Cindy Biggs and her sons, Nathan Biggs, 10, and Justin Biggs, 7.
The boys listed their favorite animal of the day as Rusty, the red-tailed hawk.
Cindy Biggs liked the reptiles.
“I can look at them from afar,” she said.
Monique Liguori, executive director at the wildlife center, recalled doing the annual program at least three or four years at Jelly Belly. After each one, there will be an influx of visitors to the center, she said.
“They want to see more critters,” Liguori said. “There’s no fee to visit, so it’s a great place for kids.”
The Jelly Belly visit also gives her an opportunity to educate people on local wildlife. She shared how to tell whether a snake was poisonous and instructed the youth to let an adult know if they find an injured animal.
The audience got a brief history of the center, which opened in 1976 and has released more than 17,000 animals since then.
Liguori told the crowd that she’s seen an increased interest in owls the past few years. Possibly the result of “Harry Potter” movies, she speculated.
Milo, the screech owl, was introduced to the crowd as she explained that while he was small, he was full-grown. Liguori pointed out that the bird has the ability to camouflage itself.
He will be a permanent resident at the center, as his left eye was injured so severely it had to be removed. That makes it tough for him to survive in the wild, she said.
Burr, the burrowing owl, left a “gift” on the carpet as soon as he was introduced. His handler quickly wiped it up with a paper towel.
“We can’t find bird of prey Pampers,” Liguori told the crowd.
Burr has an injured wing and is unable to fly.
Guinevere, the great-horned owl, followed. The owl had a run-in with a barbed-wire fence, which ended in her losing some of her left wing. It had to be taken off to save her life, Liguori said.
One young boy in the audience wanted to know if Guinevere had babies.
“No, we keep an eye on her,” Liguori said.
Most the animals are brought to the center by people who find them injured. That makes it hard to know the critter’s age, Liguori said.
Rusty, the red-tailed hawk, is one whose age can be estimated. One feather in his tail had not changed from brown to red. That usually happens when the bird turns 3. He’s been there 2½ years, so the center staff and volunteers say he is about 5½ years old.
Pogo, the opossum, came to the center after a family took in the orphaned animal and tried to raise her like a pet.
“She has no idea she’s an opossum,” Liguori said. “She doesn’t know what to be afraid of.”
“Do they play possum?” an audience member asked Liguori.
“When they are frightened, they faint and go out like a Victorian lady,” she said. Their heart rate and breathing slow down as to appear as if they are dead, Liguori said.
Slim and Ringo, a California King snake, were the finale.
“I think snakes make great pets,” Liguori told the crowd.
For more information, visit www.suisunwildlife.org. Volunteer information is also available on the website.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.