DIAMOND, Mo. —
Nine-year-old Isabelle Ideker loves birds, and during a raptor demonstration Saturday, she learned about an owl that weighs less than a pound.
“I didn’t even know that screech owls existed,” Isabelle said. “I never saw one, so I thought it was really cool.”
Isabelle, of Duquesne, went with her grandfather to the George Washington Carver National Monument to watch the demonstration that gave people a chance to see raptors — birds that hunt or feed on other animals — in person.
Delia Lister, director of Nature Reach at Pittsburg State University, brought an American kestrel, an eastern screech owl, a barred owl, a great horned owl and a Harris hawk and gave an hourlong presentation about the birds and how to protect them.
The American kestrel was the first raptor to be presented. Lister said his nest was destroyed by a pressure washer and that the bird has been in captivity ever since.
Lister corrected a common misconception that if a person finds and touches a baby bird, the mother will no longer care for it because of the human’s scent.
“For the most part, birds do have a terrible sense of smell,” Lister said. “So if you do find a baby bird, the best thing to do is either leave it alone, put it back in the nest or close to where the nest was.”
If someone tries to take the bird home and care for it, the bird will lose its natural fear of people. It would also lose its hunting skills, the ability to defend itself and would be completely dependent on a person.
“If you were to let him go, he either would not make it after a few days, or he would land on somebody’s shoulder who wasn’t expecting that,” Lister said.
When the screech owl made its first appearance, the crowd was fascinated by its small size. But Lister said do not underestimate what it can do.
“They are really ferocious hunters,” Lister said, adding they wouldn’t be good pets.
The owl was hit by a car, causing it to go blind in one eye. Lister said that without good eyesight, the owl would be unable to survive in the wild. It has been in captivity for about five years, and Lister said the owl’s calm personality makes it a good bird to take to demonstrations.
Even though owls are associated with wisdom, Lister said their eyeballs take up a lot of space, making them less intelligent than other birds.
“They’re not, let’s say, as dumb as a turkey,” Lister said. “But they’re not as smart as crows by any means.”
The next owl presented, a barred owl, caused several children to say “whoa” because of its 40-inch wingspan. It is the most common owl seen in the area, Lister said, and is known by its call that sounds like, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”
Nine-year-old Ashton Russell, of Neosho, said his favorite part of the demonstration was the Harris hawk, which was the oldest bird at the demonstration at about 30 years of age.
“The feathers look so cool,” Ashton said.
His mother, Becky Carter, said she loves animals and agreed the hawk was one of the best parts of the demonstration. She also enjoyed seeing owls in person for the first time.
“The owls were beautiful,” she said.
Isabelle said although she liked the screech owl, her favorite part of the demonstration was the great horned owl. Lister said they are also known as flying tigers because of big feet and their orange and black stripes.
“It was really interesting,” Isabelle said, adding she liked seeing the feather tufts that some may think are ears.
“I like flying things,” she added. “Owls, all sorts of birds. Stuff like that.”
Nature Reach is an outreach program of PSU’s Biology Department.