by Jennifer Simonson;
by Evan Lewis
the Bald Eagle becomes extinct, will it still be our national symbol?
was one of the few questions Parker resident Kin Quitugua, a Master Falconer,
has heard from elementary school students during the past 16 years that he was
unable to answer.
is one of the founder of HawkQuest, a nonprofit organization that educates the
public, mostly students and scout groups, about birds of prey, their environment
and the importance of preserving that environment.
the help of his volunteers, Quitugua brings birds such as Eagles, Hawks, Owls,
and Falcons into classrooms, allowing audiences to experience the birds up close.
demonstrate the birds' hunting ability, Quitugua brings students into the birds'
natural habitat - the outdoors - and lets the birds do what they do naturally,
November 19, Quitugua and six volunteers led 57 sixth-graders from West Middle
School through Bear Creek Lake Park.
volunteers with Harris' Hawks perched on their handler's glove walked the park
searching the area for food.
other HawkQuest members walked alongside them with large staffs hitting the ground
and scrub brush to scare jackrabbits, or other potential food, from their hiding
line of students, carefully stepping over scrub brush and cactus, followed. As
the walk continued, some of the students were easily distracted, quietly talking
about boys, teachers, and lunch.
attention, however was on the birds as soon as the Hawks spotted an animal and
the chase began. The Hawks chased many animals that swerved to avoid their talons
or scurried into a hole. During the two-hour walk, the birds killed two jackrabbits
and a mouse.
was the 10th year HawkQuest has taken students from West Middle School out to
observe the Hawk's hunting behavior.
program fits with the school's science curriculum, said teacher Steve Kidd.
now the students are learning about predator and prey relationships, habitat and
animal adaptation and this field trip demonstrates all that," Kidd said.
runs HawkQuest from his home just outside Parker. A 40-foot by 80-foot mews, the
Old English word for Hawk House, a garage and a bird shed fill his back yard.
This mews is the biggest of its kind in Colorado. It houses 25 orphaned birds
of varying species.
of the birds at HawkQuest have been injured in some way - most were hit by a vehicle,
leaving them unable to hunt and fend for themselves in the wild. Others were taken
as pets while young and never learned how to hunt.
In the corner stall,
with her head hanging low, a 12-pound Bald Eagle named Spirit perched at the bottom
of her cage. While taken as a pet, somebody fed her fish with high levels of mercury
when she was young, Quitugua said. Because of mercury poisoning, which has caused
brain and nerve damage, she now suffers from regular seizures.
human encroachment on open space, one of the reasons Quitugua explains to the
students for bird extinction, is also endangering the organization.
rapidly expanding Denver-metro area is overtaking fields Quitugua used to exercise
and demonstrate his birds, he said. Quitugua fears that if the trend continues,
he might have to eliminate the field program from his teaching tools.
the students remember just a few facts from his presentation, such as that animals
of prey have the upper hand in a hunt, that Harris' Hawks hunt in groups or that
birds of prey have an extremely high mortality rate, he considers his program
more importantly, Quitugua wants the students to walk away with an understanding
about the environment and a sense of responsibility. As top predators, humans
must take care of the environment they live in before it is no longer habitable,