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Students rapt attention at 'birds of prey' assembly

by Steve Jacobs Scout Reporter

Deanna Curtis, left, holds the bald eagle Free Spirit, posing with 9-year-old Kelly McCauley. McCauley, a fourth grader at Bennett Elementary, appears a bit apprehensive waiting for her picture with the endangered bird.

Raptors were flying through the rafters at Bennett Elementary on Thursday.

HawkQuest, a non-profit organization based in Parker, was in town giving two school assembly presentations raising awareness not only of raptors, but also the environment.

Four raptors, or birds of prey, made the visit including a Harris' Hawk, a Great Horned Owl, a Peregrine Falcon, and a Bald Eagle named Free Spirit.

"We are really grateful for the opportunity to work with the birds and to tell their stories," said David Thomas, a HawkQuest volunteer.

If raptors have been injured or removed from the wild illegally and deemed unable to return successfully by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, HawkQuest or other similar organizations become caretakers. The birds, which are fed and medicated if needed, would otherwise perish in the wild.

While the raptors are not typically given names because they are not pets, explained Thomas, the Eagle, Free Spirit, took its name after being stolen from the nest as a 2-month-old eaglet and left disabled on a doorstep. The Eagle has seizures if not medicated twice daily due to ingesting mercury early in life.

Volunteers David Thomas and Nancy Fortran, and Deanna Curtis brought the birds to Bennett for the purpose of educating the students on how the raptors live and survive in nature. HawkQuest travels throughout the state and across the nation educating the public and interested groups of various ages although the main audience is school children. The organization, which has about 50 volunteers backing up a staff of three, gave raptor demonstrations to over 50,000 students last year. The Bennett presentation was funded at no cost to the school because HawkQuest received a grant for educational demonstrations from the Dr. Scholl Foundation last year.

"We have 14 different birds. We just acquired an immature 2-year-old Bald Eagle," Thomas said.

The bird will become part of the touring entourage after training, he said, stressing the raptors will remain wild.

The volunteers explained how each of the different birds acted in the wild while asking questions of the captivated audience. The raptors are varied in talents using their beaks, claws, eyes, and ears to find and track their prey. The student were told how the Great Horned Owl can see nearly 1,000 feet away by the light of one candle, while the Peregrine Falcon dives at speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour to catch its dinner-to-be off guard.

"[Our world] can be affected in most any way we want to affect it, because we are human beings, by virtue of our intelligence, and our opposable thumb, and our social organization. We are the people that control what happens to the environment," Thomas said. "We try to give [students] an understanding of the effects they can have, to make them realize they aren't the only inhabitants."

The Harris' Hawk was the only bird to fly at the school, albeit a bit timidly. Twice the bird perched on top of the basketball support, having to be coaxed down by Thomas.

"I love these birds, they don't love me," he said. "The most I can hope is that they'll trust me."

Reprint from the The I-70 Scout Wednesday, April 11, 2001


For information about HawkQuest, including how to book a program or to become a volunteer, call (303) 690-6959.


Posted 06/18/01

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