By Joseph Robertia
The tiny owl craned its head 180 degrees to reveal its large, yellow, disc-shaped eyes. Its brown- and buff-colored feathers would normally help it camouflage into the tree cavities in which it typically roosts, but this 8-inch owl wasn’t hunting from a dense spruce forest. Rather, it was on display last week at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School as part of an educational program put on by the Bird Treatment and Learning Center of Anchorage.
“They do an owl unit in second grade, but the best view they would normally see of an owl would be on a video, so this really engages them,” said school Principal Melissa Linton.
The diminutive owl, a Northern Saw-whet, was one of two owls that visited the school last week. The other was a much larger and diurnal Northern hawk owl. Though different in size, the two had something in common — they had both previously been injured in ways that prevented them from surviving on their own.
“The Saw-whet, now 2 years old, was attacked by ravens when it was about 4 months old. It’s now blind in one eye.
The other owl was hit by a car about this time last year. It fractured its wing and it’s now pinned together. So neither bird will be released back into the wild,” said Sharon Larson.
She, along with her husband, Bill, are U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-permitted bird rehabilitators and the volunteer caretakers of the owls.
Larson said that the owls are great to bring to schools — as well as churches, scouting groups and other venues — because not only are they distinct and unique, but also because of all the lessons that can be taught in relation to the creatures.
“You can teach a lot about ecology by asking the kids about the bird’s color and why it might need to be that color to fit into its environment. It’s a good opportunity to teach about conservation, too, because if there are no trees or forests, there are no owls,” she said.
“We get birds in quite regularly that have been shot. We just had a peregrine falcon come in last week. Alaska is a very gun-oriented state, so it’s good to teach the kids to shoot at targets, and not birds, because some of them just don’t know that is wrong,” she said.
Larson said that bringing live birds often is a learning experience for more than just the kids.
“Owls can be hard to spot, even when you are looking for them. Many don’t live in areas with lots of people, so a lot of kids and adults have never seen one before, and those who have usually haven’t seen one up-close. Seeing the birds up-close, it makes it more real to them,” she said.
Johnna Lemm, a member of the school’s parent-teacher association, seconded that her son and daughter, fifth-grader Braden and first-grader Morgan, got more out of the live presentation than they would have from just reading about owls.
“(Braden) really enjoyed seeing the live owls. (Morgan) enjoyed seeing the different sizes in real life instead of trying to imagine it out of a book. She also enjoyed being able to touch the different feather samples, holding the weighted beanbags (which represented the weight of each of the owls presented) and seeing the photos they passed around,” Lemm said.
“Hands-on learning is easier for most children when learning,” Lemm added. “I felt this type of presentation really
brought the reality of harmed birds to life. The children were able to see firsthand some of the effects of harmed birds and what TLC does to care for the birds. They were able to ask an experienced bird caregiver questions. I bet most of the children did not know there were places like TLC out there.”
Informing the public about the rehabilitation work at TLC is another component of the educational message Larson brings to schools.
“The Bird TLC is dedicated to rehabilitating sick, injured and orphaned wild birds,” she said. “We treat hundreds of birds each year and are always looking for monetary donations for the work to continue.”
To learn more about the Bird TLC, visit its website at http://www.Birdtlc.net. Donations can be made by PayPal or by mail to 6132 Nielson Way, Anchorage, AK, 99518.