With capacity at 150, the morning "Birds of Prey" presentation at the Nature Center Saturday was close to filled with students, families, Cub Scouts and retirees learning about three indigenous raptors and one not native to the area.
Rob and Becky Lorey of Ste. Genevieve, Mo., took a half-dozen Bear Cubs from Pack 410 for their first visit to the Nature Center and were pleased they could attend a program that interested the boys. "We were supposed to come last week but got snowed in," said Rob.
Presenter Rusty Scarborough brought native raptors for the presentation -- a barn owl, great-horned owl and a red-tailed hawk that live at an Arkansas nature center because injuries prevent them from being released back into the wild.
He explained that raptors' talons and beaks are their tools to catch and kill prey. Lock-down grooves enable their tendons to hold onto prey until their sharp beaks puncture the internal organs of their prey. Although a raptor may instead suffocate its prey, it will swallow it whole to avoid vulnerability on the ground.
This trait can help to determine the status of the ecosystem. When environmentalists discover a raptor is surviving on animals ordinarily outside its diet, questioning environmental issues may help create a hypothesis.
Scarborough explained that birds of prey aren't evil but merely products of their wild environment, trying to survive. The training with their parents lasts a mere eight weeks; young birds have a 20 percent survival rate.
Finding food is only one obstacle their existence depends on. Injury to these birds caused by living in a world made by men often takes its toll. Electrocution when they use transformers as a perch and run-ins with vehicles were among the mishaps mentioned.
Joe Busso, a biology student at Southeast Missouri State University, said he learned how owls' oversized eyes gather available light, enabling them to hunt most effectively in darkness -- an advantage for nocturnal hunters.
But the owl also hunts effectively at night by means of specialized hearing. The rings around their eyes act like a funnel to their ears aiding in hunting, especially on nights void of moonlight.
Learning about the identifiable life stages a raptor encounters was an interesting topic to former Sikeston, Mo., biology teacher Phil Dodson. While size in raptors is more an identifying mark for determining sex, feathers often determine age.
Scarborough's own hunting bird, a Harris' hawk named Padawan, was last in the presentation. Harris' hawks are not native to the area. Scarborough emphasized that raptors are wild animals, not pets. Padawan was acquired due to an injury in the wild. Hunting in packs is typical of Harris' hawks -- together with Cashmere, a captive bred bird, the pair engage in the sport with Scarborough. He doesn't use a gun or bow.
Scarborough said individuals who discover a bird of prey should contact the department of conservation in their area who can locate the proper authorities to take the bird to a refuge center.
335-6611, extension 133