INTO NATURE: Raptor Center brings birds of prey to TES

Published 10:31 pm Thursday, March 21, 2019

“Enraptured” is the best way to described the fascination of the first grade students at Troy Elementary School Thursday when the Southeastern Raptor Center at Auburn University brought seven raptors to visit their school on Thursday.

“I am so inspired to go into nature and I am not afraid,” said first-grader Mary Brooke Sims. “I wanted to stay and hear more about the raptors, especially the tiny owl, the cute one.”

Mary Brooke has a bird feeder at her home and she sees birds all the time but “that’s not like going into nature. That’s where I’m going. I want to see raptors.”

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Whether or not other youngsters were inspired to go into nature, there could be little doubt that they now know more about birds called raptors.

Teresa Sims, TES principal, said the program presented by the Southeastern Raptor Center is made possible by a grant from the Troy City Education Foundation.

“We are very appreciative of the grant that makes is possible for our young students to see these birds up close and to learn about their characteristics, their differences and the amazing things they can do,” Sims said. “This is a special opportunity and the staff of the Raptor Center does a fabulous job of presenting the raptors and telling their stories.”

Andrew Hopkins, Southeastern Raptor Center assistant director, said the center does more than 250 programs a year throughout Alabama and beyond its borders.

“We recently did a program in Mississippi,” Hopkins said. “Everywhere we go, children of all ages are eager to learn about raptors because they are all different and what they can do is fascinating.”

Although raptors are different in many ways, there are similarities, Hopkins said. Raptor is a term for all birds of prey. Raptors are carnivorous birds, meaning they eat meat. They have strong bills, large talons and exceptional flight capabilities.

The Raptor Center staff brought the raptors out one at a time beginning with the smallest, the Eastern screech owl or, the “cutest.” Hopkins said the screech owl is protected by the color of its feathers, which make it possible to blend into the trees. Being small, the screech owl eats crickets, grasshoppers and small lizards and mice. The students responded with “ugh.”

The barn owl or the ghost owl, with its white color, appears “ghostly” when it flies at night. The silent flapping of its wings lends to its scary appearance.

The students responded, “UGH! “to the fact that the great horned owl likes to dine on skunks. “It’s a good thing that the great horned owl has no sense of smell,” Hopkins said.

While the screech owl, the barn owl and the great horned owl are nocturnal, or night owls, other raptors are diurnal, meaning they hunt in the daylight hours.

The red tail hawk moves through the air by soaring, meaning that it does not flap its wings. It has incredible vision and, if the red tail hawk could read, it could read a book from a mile away. So, it can be flying a mile high and spy a mouse on the ground and zero in on it for lunch.

The falcon the Raptor Center staff brought along is not a native to the United States.  Falcons come from Africa and the Middle East and are extremely fast. Some falcons can fly up to 220 miles per hour. A falcon feeds on other birds and flies above its prey. Then the falcon dives and slams into its prey and it’s Sunday dinner time.

The turkey vulture is nature’s garbage collector. It feeds on dead animals. It has a long beak for reaching inside the dead animal, few feathers on its head for cleanliness and strong talons for pulling the dead meat apart. “Ugh!”

The last bird that visited TES on Thursday was the American bald eagle, which was once an endangered species because of the widespread use of DDT. But now that the chemical is no longer being use, the American bald eagle can be seen all across the country.

The first-grade students showed their appreciation for the program and for the birds they now identify as raptors with applause and waves goodbye to the staff of the Raptor Center.