Raptors give glimpse of nature

by

Monday, August 11 2008

            The DNR Amphitheater was packed today for “The Art of Falconry,” where I learned two things – first, State Fair audiences appear to appreciate the macabre (there was serious applause when a red-tailed hawk named Jack dismembered a dead mouse) and second, predatory birds are awesome.

            Mark Booth of Take Flight! Wildlife Education has clearly been doing this program for quite some time. He had the ability to make mundane facts fascinating. As a result, even the antsiest of children (and DNR interns) stayed interested throughout the show.

The first special guest was Jack, a special case who is blind in one eye. Booth explained this screwed up Jack’s depth perception and that he would never be able to hunt in the wild on his own. In some way, though, this makes Jack sort of an ambassador and gives human species an advantage in learning about raptors (not of the Jurassic Park variety).

Slipping into Psychology 101 lingo, Booth noted that to train falcons and hawks, one needs to use sort of operant conditioning and positive reinforcement; unlike a dog, you can’t punish these birds into learning. You have to ask them to do what you want.

            There was a tense moment when two DNR conservation officers strolled by with a Labrador, but other than that, Jack’s visit was a successful one, as were those of an American kestrel named Fluffy, a great horned owl, a peregrine falcon and a Harris hawk from the Southwest.

            Booth’s overriding message seemed to be that it was important to learn about these species and nature because, after all, human beings are a part of nature. He discussed biodiversity and the dangers of extinction – the fewer species there are in an ecosystem the less healthy that ecosystem is. Important messages like these are the backbone of DNR teachings and mission statements.

To see some biodiversity firsthand, I suggest coming to the Natural Resources Building to listen to programs like this one, or you can take a walk through the Butterfly Garden and along the outside of the building where you’ll see tons of species of fish right on State Fairgrounds.

– Katy

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