Birds, kids get acquainted in Pa.

February 05, 2007|by JENNIFER FITCH

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - With "ears" fully pricked, the eastern screech owl peered at the dozens of children staring back at him Sunday.

"Are they actually ears?" one child asked the guest speaker.

Jen Brackbill responded that, no, the small owl was simply using feathers to make a point.

"This bird is trying his best to look big and scary," Brackbill said.

Brackbill, program director at Shaver's Creek Environmental Center, put the eastern screech owl in its travel crate and pulled out four raptors who were bigger, yet the children seemingly didn't find even them scary.

Instead, the youngsters clamored to the edge of their seats in the auditorium of James Buchanan High School. Many also explored the Charles Brightbill Environmental Center at the open house held in conjunction with Brackbill's presentation.


Brackbill and an assistant visited Mercersburg from Penn State University's environmental center, bringing with them the raptors that elicited myriad questions from the children. The youngsters questioned where the birds live, how many eggs they lay, how they drink water, who their enemies are and how they turn their heads around.

They also took a look at a freshly digested owl pellet.

"We took one apart once, and it was disgusting," said Shay Black, 12, of St. Thomas, Pa.

Her younger sister, 8-year-old Chelsey Black, was a fan of the great-horned owl because it was the biggest of all the Pennsylvania raptors in the auditorium. Meanwhile, Kirstyn Black, 6, thought the red-tailed hawk was cool.

Brackbill listed what each bird eats, and the diets included mice, other birds, moles, cats and small dogs. Raptors grab prey with their talons.

"Once they reach out and catch their food, they need to hold onto it," Brackbill said, explaining the birds have tread on their claws.

Birds have adapted to allow them to better spot, follow and attack prey, according to Brackbill. Those adaptations include hollow bones, air packs, large eyes and a wide wingspan, she said.

The red-tailed hawk - which can dive at 150 mph - and the other birds mostly rested quietly on the handlers' arms.

"We've never been that close to one," Nathaniel Taylor, 12, of Mercersburg, said. He and his 8-year-old brother, Charlie Taylor, were helping their father with the Charles Brightbill Environmental Center open house, which is repeated from 2 to 5 p.m. on the first Sunday of each month from September to June.

The birds' visit "was just a cool experience because you don't get to do it too much," Charlie Taylor said.

Brightbill Center

The Charles Brightbill Environmental Center, adjacent to James Buchanan High School in Mercersburg, Pa., is home to the Tuscarora Wildlife Education Project.

The center features an extensive display of animals that have been stuffed. Fossils, rocks, skulls and nests are also on display.

The center has a library and classroom, where children study the natural world.

Open from 2 to 5 p.m. on the first Sunday of each month from September to June, programs include animal classification, wildflowers, African mammals and endangered species.

The late Charlie Brightbill, a former music teacher, was one of the original founders of the Tuscarora Wildlife Education Project.

For more information, call 717-328-2126.

If you go

What: Benefit concert for the family of Prayer Wenger featuring Dimestore Profit (formerly Good For Nothing), Aneirin and The Hybrid.

When: Friday, 7 to 10 p.m.

Where: The gym of the former Mowrey Elementary school on Pa. 997 in Quincy, Pa.

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