BOISE, Idaho — Willie the owl seemed to enjoy being the center of attention, whirling his feathered head in 270 degree turns, his tubular eyes surveying his rapt tourist audience.
Willie, like all 225 of his species, is nocturnal with extraordinary hearing; a silent hunter, with feather fringe on the leading edge of his wings, feathered feet and eyelashes, all to muffle his dead-accurate stealth.
Long a symbol in many cultures, of wisdom and prophecy, owls were believed to possess a magical inner light gifting them with night vision.
Willie, who stars in a live program several times daily, is one of many live and stuffed species of raptors and other birds featured in a 7,200-square-foot World Center for Birds of Prey.
The center, about 7 miles outside Boise, serves as world headquarters for the Peregrine Fund, dedicated to conservation of raptors — birds of prey such as falcons and eagles.
Magnificent American condors are perched high above us outdoors, perhaps measuring us for a meal. Captive birds in the breeding facility are monitored by video, allowing experts to collect behavioral information, as well as study disease, nutrition and genetics.
Seeing a captive Andean condor — much larger than American condors — up close is one of my memories from Patagonia Chile.
Falconry archives include equipment, artwork and a library of 1,800 books on falconry, some dating to 1495. In 2006, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed donated funds for building expansion, in honor of his father, the founding president of the United Arab Emirates.
Each fall, the organization invites the public to Vermilion Cliffs near the Grand Canyon to watch as young California Condors, bred in captivity, are released into the wild, joining colleagues who already soar there year round.
Boise Art Museum is celebrating its 75th anniversary. Though small, the space at Julia Park entrance is lively and impressive with changing exhibits and a gift shop featuring Idaho artisans.
Spanish Basques in significant numbers moved to Boise around 1850, attracted by silver mining and shepherding work. Once near 30,000, Basques formed the largest Basque community outside Spain. Their history is featured at the Basque Museum and Cultural Center. Music and dance events are offered frequently. Alas, the center is closed Sunday and Monday, so I did not get to visit.
About 20 antique stores can be found in Boise and surrounding small communities. Antique World Mall, at 27,000-square-feet, hosts more than 140 dealers, and is good for several hours of browsing.
Other Boise attractions include the Idaho Historical Museum, Old Idaho Penitentiary, Zoo Boise, Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology, botanical garden and military history museum.
We discovered China Grand Buffet, 10498 W. Fairview at 5 Mile Road, featuring more than 100 items, each prepared to absolute perfection, particularly the delicate pastries.
It is the finest Chinese buffet I have found, with exquisite food, including in China. We considered returning to Boise just to eat in this reasonably priced restaurant.