Kids connecting kids to nature: Donation brings birds to local schools

Who? Who-hoo-hoo, whooo? Whoooo’s in the animal carrier?

That was the question more than 500 pre-school and elementary school students were asking around Ottawa as Nature Canada presented Falcon-Ed’s feathered ‘employees’ to students at 4 schools on April 23rd, all part of our Earth Week 2014 celebrations. Falcon-Ed is a Montreal-based team of falconers working to promote biodiversity and nature conservation through in-class and outdoor demonstrations using live, trained birds of prey – known as raptors.

Darwin the Great Horned Owl Falcon-Ed, Connecting Kids to Nature at local Ottawa elementary schools, NatureHood, Nature Canada

Darwin, Falcon-Ed’s 3 year-old Great Horned Owl.

Well after a bit of suspense, the lucky students at Berrigan Elementary School, Glebe Cooperative Nursery School, Connaught Public School and Regina Street Public School learned that Darwin, a 3 year-old Great Horned Owl, was the animal visitor waiting to greet them and teach them about their wild neighbours in the naturehood. Darwin’s handler, Genny from Falcon-Ed, had the full attention of her audience as she donned her thick leather falconer’s glove and introduced Darwin to each of the groups.

And Darwin wasn’t alone. With him was a beautiful female American Kestrel named Nora. The Kestrel is our smallest falcon species and next to Darwin, most of the students thought Nora was delicate little feeder bird. And then they learned that Nora and her kind may actually feed on the birds at their backyard feeders! This left the kids (and even some teachers) amazed and bewildered, until Genny, our Falcon-Ed presenter, showed us a Kestrel’s talons: Wow… The kids were also amazed to hear that among many prey items, Great Horned Owls like Darwin actually love to hunt and eat skunks! Or that you can’t actually hear an owl’s wing feathers cutting through the air (the feathers on the leading edge of the wing are serrated to cut through the air silently). The reactions were priceless.

What’s more priceless about this great day, however, is what and who made it all possible.

Thanks to an unexpected and very generous donation from 76 EcoTeam students at Kingston, Ontario’s St. Martha Catholic School, Nature Canada was able to connect over 500

American Kestrel, Falcon-Ed,

Falcon-Ed has a whole family of American Kestrels. Pictured here is Elvis, offspring of Nora, an 11 year-old female Kestrel.

kids with nature here in Ottawa! The funds behind this donation were collected during Spirit Day events at the K-8 school this past February. Nature Canada was chosen as one of the 3 charities the students would support through their ‘Go Green with the EcoTeam’ fundraising efforts.

I had the opportunity to speak St Martha Catholic School Vice Principal, Stacey Porter-Eves, about this donation and thank her for helping Nature Canada connect even more kids to nature in the nation’s capital. When asked what led the kids to make this donation, Stacey’s response was this:


The students at St. Martha are used to this sort of giving to the community, and they’re always looking for opportunities to give to others. The students are very eco-minded and already engage in a number of environmental initiatives, so this [donation] was a natural decision for them.

Vice Principal Porter-Eves is very proud of the school’s EcoTeam members who, in addition to leading the school’s Earth Hour observances each year, have also written to Kingston City Council to request turtle crossing signs on nearby roads that the reptiles are known to cross during nesting season. When asked what the students take away from this sort of experience, Porter-Eves observed:

It’s these sorts of opportunities that teach the kids that they really can make a difference and that every person’s contribution really does help.

Darwin, Great Horned Owl, Falcon-Ed, Preschool, Ottawa, Glebe, NatureHood, Nature Canada

Preschoolers at the GCNS meet Darwin, who is the same age as some of them!

And make a difference these students did. What begins as a first encounter with magnificent birds of prey in grade school may lead to a lifelong love of nature, or even a career as an artist, scientist or amateur nature photographer. Whatever the outcome, I’m confident that the kids who learned about Darwin and Nora and their important roles in the ecosystem will appreciate – and see – nature in new ways from now on. And as Senegalese conservation champion, Baba Dioum, suggested in the following quote, I hope that appreciation will make a big difference for nature as time passes.

In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.

― Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

Thank you, St. Martha Catholic School! And Nature Canada looks forward to sharing Falcon-Ed’s presentation with you when NatureHood moves to Kingston!