By SARAH MANN Daily News
HUBERTUS — Educators from the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center were hawking the virtues of kestrels and eagles to students in St. Gabriel School’s Nature Club on Tuesday.
“We learned a lot about child development and using multi-sensory education,” Schellinger explained. “It can actually enhance children and (information) goes into their longterm memories.”
Schellinger hoped that seeing the birds of prey up close would help students be more engaged with their learning, because the adventure dovetailed with some of the books that they’re reading for school at the moment.
“It’s nice to work together with parents and teachers,” Schellinger said. That, and, “We thought it would be pretty cool to have a bald eagle.”
They had Valkyrie, a 2-year-old female bald eagle who is so young that she’s not yet bald. Focht, her arm protected by a leather glove, held the bird for all to see as Ken Wardius gave details about the species — despite the name, they’re not featherless.
“They do not get their white tail and white head until around age 5,” he said. “Bald — it’s an Old English word that means ‘white.’”
Eagles are becoming an increasingly common site in southeastern Wisconsin as the population continues to recover from some devastating environmental problems in the 1960s, Wardius said. Full-grown eagles have a wingspan of about 7 feet, build huge nests to accommodate their size and mate for life. Despite their impressive length and being the size of Focht’s torso, Valkyrie only weighs 11 pounds.
On the opposite end of the spectrum was a tiny saw-whet owl named Dory, a fluffy handful that can turn her head about 270 degrees in either direction and fly so silently that her prey doesn’t even know she’s there before she pounces.
“There’s fringes on the wing. See them?” Focht asked her rapt audience. “As the bird is flying, the fringes will muffle the air and the owl flies silent. You can’t hear an owl fly.”
You can hear a red-tailed hawk screech, though, and Skywalker, a 14-year-old “highway hawk,” as the species is also known, gave a healthy one to impress the students as she was carried around. Rounding out the cavalcade was Mallory, an American kestrel who can reach speeds of more than 90 miles per hour when she’s diving out of the sky for prey, helped along by her streamlined body.
“She’s like a little torpedo,” Focht joked. For fourth-grader Jack Schroeder, this is the coolest thing he’s done in Nature Club thus far, especially as he’s already had some experience with birds of prey in the wild.
“We’ve seen a bald eagle on the side of the road, when we were camping. It was eating a dead deer,” he said. “I liked the little owl. She was really tiny and cute.”