Sometimes, animals are capable of the most remarkable displays of affection that are so human-like that one cannot help but think these creatures experience emotion just like humans. Such is the case with GiGi, a great horned owl who recently showed her affection toward Douglas “Doug” Pojeky. Doug is the president of Mississippi’s Wild at Heart Rescue and is known for his expertise with birds of prey, a skill that has earned him the nickname “birds of prey whisperer.” When GiGi arrived at the rescue after apparently being hit by a car and suffering head trauma, Doug was called upon to bring his considerable skills to bear in her recovery.

GiGi was in poor shape when she met Doug. In addition to a concussion, GiGi also suffered from parasites and aspergillosis, an affliction that mimics pneumonia in humans. She lost a pound of weight, considerable when you consider that great horned owls only weigh between 2 and 5 pounds when healthy. The founder of the rescue, Missy Dubuisson, stated that she was “one of the most critical we have ever taken care of.The fact that this bird has lived is beyond comprehension.” Doug was able to slowly bring GiGi around, first helping her to perch and then to progress from being hand fed to feeding herself. The recovery was outstanding, but no one knew how much love GiGi had developed for her caretaker until he went away for a brief trip to Michigan to visit family.

Upon Doug’s return, GiGi responded in an amazing way. After sitting on Doug’s arm and bobbing with excitement, GiGi moved up Doug’s chest, rested her head on his shoulder, and spread her wings in the unmistakable gesture of a hug. “It literally brings tears to my eyes to watch him interact with these birds,” Dubuisson said. “They absolutely know him and trust him. It’s the trust that you see in her face.” Clearly, GiGi has the capability to feel and show gratitude and love.

Owls are a group of typically solitary nocturnal birds from the order Strigiformes. They have large heads, strong curved bills, and typically live in forests or woodlands. Owls vary in size from a few centimeters to nearly a meter tall. The smallest known owl is the Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi) of North America, at as little as 31 grams and 10.6 centimeters in length. The largest owls are two of the Eurasian Eagle-Owls, the Eurasian Eagle-Owl (Bubo bubo) and Blakiston’s Fish Owl (Bubo blakistoni). These large owls can exceed fifteen inches in length and have 3-foot wingspans.

Owls are often confused with other types of birds such as, nightjars, horned owls and sometimes even woodpeckers. However, there are some main differences between the three. One of the most notable differences between owls and other birds are that an owl’s eyes are frontally placed, which means they are placed on the front part of their heads. This gives them binocular vision in which they use to accurately pinpoint prey even in low light situations. Owls have three eyelids, unlike humans who only have two, which means they can close their eyes completely. Owls’ feathers are specialized to allow for silent flight, making them excellent hunters at night because prey cannot hear the owl coming. The main difference between horned owls and woodpeckers is that horned owls have claws on their toes, unlike woodpeckers who only have sharp tips on their toes for climbing.

The most common species of owl, the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is a medium sized white-faced owl that ranges from Florida to northern South America and as far north as Southern Canada during winter months. The female can grow up to twenty inches tall, while the male only reaches a measly fourteen inches. The Barn Owl is often called the Monkey-faced owl for its small ears and distinctive white face markings. Like other owls, they hunt at night by swooping down on prey from a perch, but they do not have great eyesight in low light situations like other owls. This means that they must rely heavily on their hearing to successfully hunt for prey. The Barn Owl’s feathers are soft and fluffy which allows them to fly silently in order to avoid alerting their prey of their presence.