Winds began to swirl and temperatures were dropping quickly as class participants began their journey along the trail around Citizens for Conservation-owned Flint Creek Savanna. All listened attentively to Dawn Keller, President of Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation while being instructed how to behave when approaching each of the volunteers holding a live bird.
The crowd was thrilled to see their first raptor, a small male peregrine falcon named Sovereign, weighing only about one pound. Everyone learned that peregrine falcons are easily found in downtown Chicago roosting on the edge of skyscrapers and have diving speeds of over two-hundred miles an hour.
Walking further into the prairie with the winds whipping at their faces and past the drought stricken wetland area, larger dark wings were spotted. Approaching the group was 05-11, a female red-tailed hawk. Spreading its wings in the wind, all could easily see the red hued tail, strong talons, and large four-foot wide wing span. All learned that female birds of prey are roughly 25 percent larger than their male counterparts.
Approaching a group of pines, Dawn pointed out owl droppings, called whitewash, on a pine trunk. The whitewash meant that owls recently visited the pine trees, and slowly coming from behind the pines was Spirit, a long-eared owl. These owls are non-native to our area, but have been recently seen in Chicago during migration. The upright blackish ear-tufts, which are positioned in the center of the head, are not ears at all. The long tufts of hair make the owl appear larger to other owls while perched.
Eager to get out of the wind and to learn about the next bird of prey, participants hiked over to the two hundred year-old oaks. Here they learned about Junior, a great-horned owl with the familiar hoo, hoo, hooo, hooo call. Junior has a wing span of about four feet and its "horns" are neither ears nor horns but simply tufts of feathers.
Close by, Dawn pointed out a large nest box near the trail and asked if anyone might know if anything is in the house. One of Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation’s volunteers slowly approached the nest box and out came Darwin. At seven to eight inches long it is North America's littlest falcon or American kestrel. One can easily spot a kestrel when perched by noting its bobbing head and tail.
With all becoming chilled by the cold, everyone began to head back to the silo area to learn about the final raptor, Pip the barn owl. However, before we learned about Pip, Dawn prepared the crowd by telling everyone to be absolutely silent and not to move as Pip is going to free-fly! Everyone held back their oohs and ahs as Dawn requested, but one could easily see the excitement on all the faces as Pip flew back and forth between handlers. The first question asked when Dawn brought Pip over to the crowd was, “What is Pip eating?” Dawn quickly stated that since Pip did such as good job flying, his reward was a mouse!
Eager to warm up, everyone headed into the farmhouse for some much-welcomed hot chocolate. Children were instructed how to make and decorate their personal raptor field guide while discussing all that they learned about the birds.
In addition to being thanked for the donation of their class fee to Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation, everyone was thanked for their generous donations of old towels, shoe boxes, Clorox wipes, and blankets that will help Dawn with providing care to injured wildlife.
To learn more about Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation, visit http://www.flintcreekwildlife.org/education/animals/. For details about Citizens for Conservation’s upcoming children, community, or volunteer opportunities, call 847-382-SAVE (7283) or visit www.citizensforconservation.org.
This story was submitted by Citizens for Conservation.