DIAMOND, Mo. — It was standing room only during the winter raptor program Saturday at George Washington Carver National Monument, where more than 100 people came to learn about birds of prey and see four species in person.
The program was brought to the monument by Pittsburg State University's Nature Reach program, which focuses on environmental education and fostering appreciation for animals in the natural world.
"The more we can engage kids, of all ages, the more likely that they're going to make smarter choices as they grow up," said Delia Lister, director of Nature Reach. "Even very simple things like not leaving their trash outside, maybe thinking about what happens when they spray chemical in the environment, all kinds of things. If they don't know, how do we expect people to change behaviors?"
Lister spent the hourlong program teaching attendees about such things as the characteristics, adaptations and food sources of several types of raptors, including owls, hawks, eagles and falcons.
She also brought with her four species of raptors — American kestrel, Eastern screech owl, barred owl and great horned owl.
During the program, Lister emphasized things that people can do to help raptors themselves, including addressing the myth that people should not touch baby birds when they have fallen out of their nests.
"The best thing that you can do for a baby bird, or any baby really, is put it back in the nest," she said. "Or put it in a box and nail the box to the tree, something like that, because 95 percent of the time the parents are still watching."
Lister explained that when people take the birds in and feed them, they become imprinted birds.
"Imprinting means that they've lost their natural fear of people," she said. "They don't know how to hunt for themselves, find a mate or find shelter. Without those tools in their toolbox, they would not survive in the wild."
Alexa Fletcher, a 16-year-old from Pittsburg, Kansas, who attended the event, said that one of the most interesting parts of the program for her was learning about what to do if she finds a bird of prey.
"I also thought it was really cool how she talked about the feathers under the eyes on the smaller birds (American kestrel)," she said. "How they have black marks that get rid of the sunlight's glare."
Fletcher said that she really enjoys attending all types of programs at Carver.
"I just think it's a really great park and they have a lot of good programs," she said. "They have a bunch of summer programs that are really fun, and I'm allowed to help out at the park through volunteering. It's pushed me to want to become a park ranger when I get older."
Both children and adults came to the event, including Donnie Burton, 10, and Brendon Short, 11. Burton and Short attended as part of their Boy Scout troop in Neosho to help earn their bird study merit badges.
"It's amazing how big their wing size is and how big their feet are," Short said.
The boys said that their favorite raptor of the day was the great horned owl because it was the biggest and made a distinctive "hoot" noise.
Nine-year-old Macer McCoy agreed that it was his favorite.
"Because of the feathers that looked like horns and how it was trying to fly," McCoy said.
Pittsburg State University's Nature Reach program is funded in part by donations. To learn about the various programs offered by Nature Reach or to make a donation, visit the program's website at pittstate.edu/biology/nature-reach, or contact director Delia Lister at 620-235-4727.