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Up-close and Personal Raptor Visit Teaches Students Life Lessons

Rehab center brings hawks, falcons and owls to River View Elementary School in a program that covered topics such as the food chain, conservation and the environment.

An American kestrel named 2 Toes knew how to win over his audience.

As handler Candy Ridlbauer was explaining the importance of the smallest falcon in North America, the bird began to speak.

The fifth-graders at cooed right back.

The falcon's name is appropriate given that he lost two of his toes in an electrocution accident in Utah. He was rehabilitated and is being cared for by the Northern Illinois Raptor Rehab and Education organization, which brought an assortment of hawks, falcons and owls to River View on Monday.

All of the birds used in the demonstration were injured or kidnapped from their nests and cannot safely return to the wild, said Ridlbauer, executive director of the Raptor Education center. Now they have a new role: to educate.

“No. 1, we want the students to care about the environment,” said Ridlbauer, who does about 120 school programs annually. “When they see these magnificent creatures up close, it brings that awareness.”

Fifth-graders at the school are learning about predators and prey, the food chain, physical and behavioral adaptations, human-environment interaction and conservation.

Having a live demonstration helps enhance the students’ science units, fifth-grade teacher Gina Waldon said.

Some students also retain more knowledge through such presentations than by reading a textbook.

“A lot of kids learn visually,” fifth-grade teacher John Furmaniak said. “When they see anything live, (rather) than reading it in a book, it makes a big difference. The imprint lasts longer.”

Dylan Scott, a fifth-grade student, said he has a great appreciation for the birds and was fascinated by the presentation of nine live raptors, which flapped their wings and hooted. He liked being able to touch the birds' feathers and talons, he said.

“I loved the hands-on experience,” he said. “They didn’t just tell you. They showed you. I’ve always had a great respect for nature, but I have a more open eye to this species of birds. The presentation taught that making nature stronger helps these wonderful species.”

Fifth-grader Ethan Fox said he was impressed by the creatures, from the Peregrine Falcon that can dive at speeds up to 250 mph to the three-ounce Northern Saw-Whet Owl, which can take down small birds, rodents and bugs.

“Powerful things can come in small packages,” he said. “It gave me a greater appreciation than what I already had. I’m more open-eyed.”

The fifth-grade class is also adopting the birds for a year. In this way, they can take ownership in learning about them and caring for their environment.

Ridlbauer said the raptors, just like people, want to live in a clean place and urged the students to do their part.

“Choices have to be made at a young age to either help the planet or hurt the planet,” she said. “Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t make a difference.”

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