By Devon Murphy  

Karla Bloem’s longtime roommate Alice, featured in Nature of Things doc The Secret Life of Owls,  is jealous, territorial, and a bit of a diva when it comes to needing attention — in short, she’s not the easiest to live with.

“She doesn’t like it if I talk on the phone around her. I tried to Skype in her room and...she just attacked the computer screen.”

Not to mention, one of her most annoying habits is leaving bits of dead rat hidden all over her room. That’s not as unusual as it may sound, since Alice is a great horned owl.

SCENE FROM THE FILM: Karla and Alice at home.

Bloem is the  Executive Director of the International Owl Center in the small town of Houston, Minnesota, which seeks to “advance the survival of wild owl populations through education and research.” She’s been living and working with Alice, an educational animal, for almost 20 years.

Alice was permanently injured when she fell out of her nest at three weeks old, so she’s unable to live in the wild on her own. After her fall, before her eyes had even focused, she was taken in and cared for by conservationists at an animal rehab centre, causing her to imprint on humans.

"As the mate you get bossed around. I'm supposed to deliver the food and be super interested in her nest all of the time."

Imprinting is how birds and other animals attach themselves to parental figures — often the first other being they see once they open their eyes. Because Alice first bonded with people instead of other owls, she’s biologically inclined toward partnerships with humans. “She’s still got all the owl instincts, but she just applies things towards people,” says Bloem.

This means she doesn’t just consider Bloem a roomie, but a mate — which explains Alice’s high expectations.

“As the mate you get bossed around. I’m supposed to deliver the food and be super interested in her nest all of the time.”

But Bloem also lives with her husband, who often makes Alice jealous simply by existing. When Bloem enters the house, Alice expects to be acknowledged first. It always ruffles the 19-year-old owl’s feathers if Bloem says hello to her husband before she compliments Alice’s nest.

“It all goes back to owl instincts,” says Bloem. “There should not be any talking with anyone else. If you’re mates, that’s it.”

MORE:
Watch The Secret Life of Owls
Tips on How to Be Owl Friendly

It makes for some necessary juggling on Bloem’s part, though her human mate is mostly understanding. After all, Alice lived there first. “He knew it was a package deal. When we were dating, he knew he’d have to win her over if this was going to work.”

Bloem studies great horned owl vocalization and communication, so she and Alice spend much of the day hooting back and forth to each other in conversation, both at the Center, and at home. Bloem is able to distinguish between Alice’s many calls to figure out what exactly she wants, which is helpful seeing as being able to communicate with your roommates makes for a much easier living situation.

SCENE FROM THE FILM: Karla works to decode owl communication.

But living with others is hard enough when they’re not birds of prey, and life with Alice brings its own unique challenges not often seen in your average lease agreement.

“You’ve got the all night hooting,” says Bloem, “we’ve got freezers full of dead rats that we’re cutting up, and she’s really not good for the furniture.” Not to mention more than one run-in with Alice’s razor-sharp talons.

With almost two decades of experience under her belt, Bloem is quick to caution that owls do not make good pets, and that she’s only permitted to keep Alice in her home because she’s a working animal — albeit one who is nearing retirement.

MORE:
Infographic: The Great Horned Owl 
Watch: Eagles Next Door

Great horned owls have an average life expectancy of just over 30 years, so at 20 years old this March, Alice is going to work less and less these days, giving her more time to hang around the house, where Bloem says she’ll live out her days. “At this age, it would be very stressful for her to move.”

Although Alice hoots territorially at anyone who comes over, and shreds egg cartons all over the floor, Bloem wouldn’t change a thing. What started as a working relationship has become for Bloem, one of the most significant connections she has. From days at the office, to long nights at home, Alice — though not your average housemate — has become a friend for life.

“If she had never come into my life, it would be totally different.”

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