Teaching children about Birds of Prey

How often do you sit and listen to the sounds of Nature? Do you sit outside? Do you listen from your favourite chair on your porch or in your living room? Do you hear her at all?

How often does your child(ren) listen to Mother Nature? Are they aware of the different creatures outside their front door? Do they sit in front of the t.v., ipad, computer immersed in the latest video game or twitter feed?

Why do children need to be interested in Mother Nature in the first place? They are kids, playing, laughing, learning. And yes, they are playing, laughing and learning but what exactly are they playing? What exactly are they learning? Do you know?

It is important for kids to be kids. They need to discover themselves, their likes and dislikes, their interests and that in which they have no interest. They are setting the stage for their future, to become helpful, caring individuals who will go on to do great things.

So, what does this have to do with wildlife? What does this have to do with birds of prey? Why is this important at all? These creatures are just birds.

First, let me ask you this: What is your first memory of Mother Nature? Think about it… Put down your cell phone, turn down the t.v. and remember your first experience with her. Not playing outside with your friends but actually being aware of her colours, smells, sounds, sights, touch. I’m wanting to make a point here. When was the first time you were truly and completely aware of other life, non-human?

You may be asking yourself, does it really matter if children are aware of Mother Nature? Why concern themselves at such a young age, just let them be kids! And yes, I do agree with kids being kids. This also includes kids learning to care for one another, to be a nice friend, to be helpful and think of others and it starts outside their family, with Mother Nature.

Children love animals. They already have the joy when they see a kitten or puppy. When they see wild animals they often become inquisitive, wanting to know what it is, where it lives, and so on. This compassion is there, right from the beginning and it’s the job of the adult to foster this love and ensure it continues into adulthood.

Birds of Prey are quite often the first group of animals I teach as working with these magnificent creatures allowed me the unique opportunity to expose children to wild animals first hand.

When you have a passion or love of something, children often follow suit. Upon these children seeing their teacher’s love and passion, they also developed the same.

There are a few tips for introducing Birds of Prey to young people.

Pre-school tips

  1. Keep it simple -Birds of Prey “talk”, Songbirds “sing”. This will also help when it comes to size as there are several Birds of Prey that are similar in size to our songbirds.
  2. Choose the most common Birds of Prey to identify. The ones I chose were: Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Snowy Owl, Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle, Barn Owl.
  3. Differentiate between our Songbirds and Birds of Prey. Often children will be so excited when they think they see a Turkey Vulture when in fact the bird is a seagull. Choose your words carefully as focusing on how the child was wrong with their identification may discourage them in the future. Explain by saying: “Yes, that is almost as big as a Turkey Vulture! Good job! Remember Turkey Vultures are black…” or something to that affect.

When possible use visual aids. Bookstores, libraries, the Dollar Store, etc. have amazing wildlife books. Occasionally there has been incorrect information so beware when searching. For example: Birds of Prey have talons, not claws.

There are 4 main characteristics of Birds of Prey. Often varying degrees of information has been listed on different websites, usually with these features in the mix. Working with the Birds of Prey and learning from educators in the field, the main ones are:

  1. Hooked beak. All Birds of Prey will have a hooked beak, regardless of their size. At Mountsberg Conservation, one of their non-releasable Bald Eagles does not have a hooked beak due to damage caused when he was injured. His name is Phoenix.
  2. Strong, powerful grip. Raptor, derived from the Latin “rapere” means to “snatch, grab, carry off”.
  3. Keen eyesight. It is a misconception that Owls are able to turn their heads 360 degrees. However they can rotate their heads approximately 280 degrees. This allows them to be able to see in all directions without moving and alerting potential prey of their presence.
  4. Broad powerful wings. Regardless of the size of the Bird of Prey, as there are a few small owls including the Saw-whet, their wings are large and strong in relation to their frame.

Visiting sanctuaries such as Mountsberg located north of Burlington, Ontario or our Canadian Raptor Conservancy located near Lake Erie will allow you and your children the unique opportunity to learn about these magnificent creatures and how they can help protect Mother Nature. These rescue and/or rehabilitation sites provide care, medical attention and permanent homes for non-releasable Raptors due to injury or human imprinting.

Birds of Prey live all over the world. We are lucky enough to have over 2 dozen species right in our own backyard, including the fastest animal on the planet, the Peregrine Falcon! This amazing Bird of Prey has been clocked at close to 400km when diving for its prey! 400km! That is amazing!

There are so many interesting facts about our Birds of Prey. From Falcons, Hawks, Vultures, Eagles and Owls, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to see them in the wild. So, when you’re out for a drive or on your way to some remote countryside, take the time to look up at the sky. You may be lucky enough to see the Peregrine Falcon diving for its dinner before it disappears from sight!

After all, we are all Mother Nature’s Heroes, all deserving of life, together.

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