JOPLIN, Mo. —
Twig, an Eastern screech owl no bigger than his carrier’s hand, was clearly the feathered favorite among Irving Elementary School pupils, who let out a collective “awww” when he was introduced.
“Look at that — his head’s on backward,” said his carrier, Mike Zeloski of the World Bird Sanctuary, amid laughter from the pupils.
Zeloski and four birds from the Valley Park, Mo.-based sanctuary were on hand at the elementary school Friday in a program to spread awareness of the need for clean water and watershed protection.
The program was offered in a partnership with Missouri American Water Co. and targeted several of the Joplin elementary schools, including Irving, that were directly impacted by the May 22 tornado, said Christie Barnhart, spokeswoman for the water utility.
“This is kind of a way to bring some fun to them, and since the school mascot is the eagle, it ties into the school pride thing as well,” she said.
Teri Schroer, the sanctuary’s director of education, highlighted the similarities between the plight of the bald eagle and the current situation of Joplin.
“The bald eagle faced tremendous adversity and made a remarkable comeback,” she said in a statement. “Visiting Joplin, it was easy to see, hear and feel the positive energy that will allow Joplin to see the same fate and come back stronger as a community.”
In addition to Twig, pupils were also treated to a visit with a turkey vulture, an African raven that grabbed empty soda cans from volunteers and dropped them into a blue recycling bin, and 18-year-old Liberty, a bald eagle who has damaged retinas and poor eyesight as a result of being hit by a car twice.
First-grader Matthew Foglesong confirmed after the program that Twig had been the highlight for him.
“I really want to go hold that owl,” he said, glancing toward the bird’s cage.
Second-grader Aria Spurgeon said she agreed.
“The owl’s cute, and I like that it can turn its head all the way around,” she said.
Zeloski, who has been with the sanctuary for more than 20 years, said he enjoys showing off his birds to children.
“I love the things that they say and the looks on their faces,” he said of the pupils. “I love to see the light click on when they’re learning something.”
Clark, an 8-year-old bald eagle from the World Bird Sanctuary, will appear in honor of the Joplin Eagles tonight at Junge Field for Joplin High School’s first home football game of the season.