Jan 28, 2010
Source: Monmouth Daily Review Atlas
ROSEVILLE — Students and teachers at Monmouth-Roseville Junior High were cautioned by Jacques Nuzzo of the Illinois Raptor Center in Decatur to never do what he was about to do — just before he stuck his head into a modified dog crate housing an adult barred owl. With decades of experience working with raptors, Nuzzo said he knew what he was doing. Soon, through his microphone, the distinctive hooting of the barred owl echoed through the gymnasium to the delight of the assembled students.
Shortly thereafter Nuzzo's boss, Jane Seitz, executive director of the Center and licensed wildlife rehabilitator, brought out the large raptor, which continued to delight the audience with occasional hoots while being shown to the students.
"We hope kids stop staring at their feet playing video games and get outside," Seitz said. "They know more about endangered species in the Amazon rainforest than the ones in their back yards. It is going to be sad when they are all gone."
Principal Don Farr said Wednesday's raptor show was part of a curriculum-wide theme at MRJHS focusing on the Mississippi River and its importance to the surrounding area. Several more special presentations are planned closer to the end of the school year. Students will be expected to complete assignments associated with the overall theme, and specifically with each presentation appropriate to the specific class they are in.
Nuzzo said he became interested in birds of prey because of a close encounter when he was a child — he was five feet away when a raptor killed a pheasant. He said part of his motivation was to get youth to experience nature and get outside.
"I think kids are a little too guarded," he said. "When I was a child, climbing trees was common for kids. Now, they often get yelled at for it."
He hoped to have an effect on young people.
"Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. I hope we inspire them to get off their butts and get on a bike or go outside."
In addition to Octavious the barred owl, three other birds were shown:
— Napoleon, a rarely seen red-shouldered hawk mainly resides in swampy areas inaccessible to people. The bird was on the endangered species list, but has made a comeback for unknown reasons, Nuzzo said. The species features large eyes, the equivalent of tennis ball sized eyes in a human, that have a dimple which acts a a telephoto lens. Their heads move independently of the body, which provides them with image stabilization at high speeds.
— A Kestrel or "sparrow hawk," which Nuzzo said had earned the nickname "the little falcon warriors" because of their tough, never back down spirit, despite relative tiny size. The kestrel shown was about 1/4 the size of the barred owl, but would take the owl on without a second thought Nuzzo said.
— Sam, the peregrine Falcon, an example of the fastest animals in the world. Nuzzo said the top documented speed of a peregrine falcon is 248 miles per hours. The raptors pull 18 Gs in a dive — three times what the best fighter pilots can survive,
"They are one of the greatest conservations success stories," Nuzzo said. "Conservation works, conservation laws work. It is plain and simple."
The single most important thing people can do to support conservation is not something obvious like reducing pollution, Nuzzo said, but rather spending time outdoors — learning to appreciate it and love it.
Nancy Innes and Cherilyn Thomas, teachers at MRJHS helped organize the event, with the substantial support of Farmland Foods, who paid for the presentation.
"We can't thank them enough," Innes said. "With the river so close we have kids that have never even been to it. We thought this would help expose the kids to all those things."
Cassie Harders, a seventh grader, said several facts at the assembly stood out to her.
"I didn't know that males were smaller than females. That is kind of cool. And I liked how the one bird, (the peregrine falcon) snaps off the heads of its prey. That is awesome."