Rusty was hit by a car as an adult and admitted to the Raptor Education Group, Inc. in Antigo, WI around 2007. He suffered trauma to his brain and right eye, as well as broke his left radius. Although his wing healed, he was permanently blind in his right eye so he wouldn't be able to hunt well enough to provide for a family in the wild. His bad eye had to be removed in 2013.
Iris was admitted to the Raptor Education Group as an adult with a puncture to her right eye around 2006. Her injury distorted her pupil and damaged her eye enough that it is unlikely she can see out of her right eye, making it doubtful that she could survive well in the wild.
While living at the Raptor Education Group in a cage with many other Great Horned Owls, Rusty and Iris started preferentially "hanging out" together, so Executive Director Marge Gibson thought they would likely make a good breeding pair and offered them to Karla for her research project.
It took several years before their new, spacious home in Houston was built. In the meantime they served as foster parents at REGI for an orphaned owlet in 2009. They moved to Houston in October of 2010.
Although they copulated starting in February of 2011, they did not lay eggs that first year. This probably had to do with not being settled enough in their new home and Scarlett Owl Hara, a wild, unmated female Great Horned Owl that harassed them daily for months, apparently trying to convince Rusty to be her mate.
Scarlett found her own mate in the fall of 2011 and Rusty and Iris laid eggs in late January 2012. Iris incubated dutifully, but the eggs failed to hatch. An examination of the eggs revealed fully developed chicks that died days before hatching. Arnold van den Burg, an expert on unhatched eggs, suspects the eggs overheated based on photos of the unhatched chicks.
Rusty and Iris hatched three eggs in 2013 and the owlets were named Pandora, Patrick and Patience. They were released to the wild and tracked using telemetry.
In 2014 they hatched Ruby and Rupert, who now work as educational ambassadors for the International Owl Center.