Xena is a Eurasian Eagle Owl. Normally she would be living somewhere in Europe or Asia, but she was born and raised in captivity in the United States. She lives with her handler, wildlife rehabilitator Lisa Acton, in upstate New York. Lisa takes her to schools, fairs, and events, and together they show people why they should respect and admire the wildlife who live around them. Xena is always calm and dignified.

Then she goes home and toilet papers Lisa’s house.


“The great thing about raising an education bird,” says Lisa, “is that you can do everything you’re never allowed to do with the wild ones.” Rehabbers have to grin and bear it during baby season; we raise incredibly cute wild birds behind masks, give them no human attention, and make sure they bond with each other and not us.

But raising an ed bird means you can coochy-coochy them to your heart’s content. When Xena was a nestling, Lisa hauled her around in a basket lined with pink blankets. When she left on business trips, her husband Joe would take the owlet to the auto shop where he works, set her up in a playpen, and feed her every hour. Owls are smart birds and need stimulation, so they’d supply her with an endless array of toys … including, one day, a roll of toilet paper.

“That was a mistake,” says Lisa today.

Shredding toilet paper became Xena’s life’s mission. As a fledgling she’d wander through the house until she found the bathroom, then hop on the toilet and launch herself at the roll. When she took to the air she’d do a fly-by, sailing out of the bathroom with her white prey clutched in her talons. When Lisa put her out in their screened-in porch, Xena would barrel through the dog door and head for the bathroom.


Eventually they had to block off the dog door because she started breaking her tailfeathers. Now the porch is her flight cage, where she likes to spend most of her time. When she wants to come into the house, she hoots and is escorted in through the regular door.

“Do I love her?” asks Lisa. “Absolutely. I adore her. If I had it to do over again, would I? No way.”

At 14 pounds, Xena is a huge bird and makes a huge mess. She considers everything a shreddable toy and cleaning up after her is no picnic. Since she’s imprinted, she’s used to and requires enormous amounts of attention. She has a daily training schedule, and if she misses more than a couple of days in a row she’ll act like a toddler throwing a tantrum.

And considering Eagle Owls are capable of taking down young deer, we don’t want her throwing too many tantrums.

Xena’s specialty is raising funds for pediatric cancer. Check out her Facebook page. And if you’re in the area, she can be the star of your event.

Written by Suzie
Suzie Gilbert is a wild bird rehabilitator whose shameful secret is that on more than one occasion she has received a female LBJ, or a fledgling whatever, and has been completely unable to ID it. Luckily she has birder friends who will rush to her aid, although she must then suffer their mockery. She is the author of her bird-rehabbing memoir Flyaway (HarperCollins) and the children's book Hawk Hill (Chronicle Books). Her recent suspenseful, bird-filled adventure novel Unflappable (Perch Press) was selected by Audubon Magazine as one of their Three Best Summer Reads of 2020. She lives in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley and is always up for a good hike.