On Tuesday, November 20th Outdoor School yet again gave everyone a memorable and educational experience to look back on. This week’s activity had us go to the Rutherford Conservatory and Gardens for a presentation and talk with Wild Ontario, an education program focusing on birds of prey based right here at the University of Guelph.
Officially launched as Wild Ontario in 2010, the program does many things. They run live animal shows to educate the public, offer volunteering opportunities to students and care for birds that are unable to properly do so by themselves in the wild.
For our class we were met in the conservatory by Wild Ontario’s Education Coordinator, Kyle Horner, and three volunteers. Along with them were four very different species of birds of prey which we very lucky to meet.
First introduced to us was an adorable American Kestrel named Artemis. Rather tiny and cute, her appearance is deceiving as it is actually possible for this species to prey on animals as large as themselves. Artemis came to live at Wild Ontario for being what the volunteers called “too cute for her own good”. This means that she was likely stolen from her nest to be kept as a pet, and as a result she does not fear humans or possess any of the skills needed to survive on her own.
The next raptor we met was Whistler, an elderly Broad-wing Hawk. At 20 years of age she is already at what is the common lifespan for her species, however she is still in good health. Whistler’s situation is similar to Artemis in that she is a human imprint, meaning raised by humans and thus unfit for living in nature. When discovered she was even found to be fond of humans and would jump right up on the falconer’s glove.
The third bird brought in was a Barred Owl by the name of Mowat. This species is actually one of two in Ontario with dark eyes making him absolutely stunning to look at. As well, we learned that owls are actually incredibly dumb contrary to the popular belief that they’re wise creatures. Their eyes are so large that they take up most of the space in the skull, not leaving much room for the brain. Mowat now calls Wild Ontario home due to being hit by a vehicle. No longer able to fly without difficulty, it would have been unsafe to release him.
The final raptor introduced was Ellesmere, a Gyrfalcon. They’re typically known to live in the Artic but will sometimes fly south in search of food. This is what Ellesmere did before her accident. Similar to Mowat’s story, Ellesmere was hunting near the roadside for small mammals that are attracted there by litter when she was struck by a vehicle. Now barely able to fly, the volunteers at Wild Ontario take care of her.
Everyone at Wild Ontario does important and necessary work educating the public about things such as biology, ecology and nature in general. Even the birds have a special role showing what can happen if nature is not respected. They teach us that wildlife is precious and that humans should do a better job at not interfering with the ecosystem by doing even the little things like not littering.
If interested in Wild Ontario and want to learn more visit their website at http://www.wildontario.ca