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Birds of prey help turn backyard into summer classroom

Teaching Your Child

Teaching Your Child

June 27, 2008|By LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

We first noticed our birds of prey a few weeks ago. They were flying around the tops of trees in a field at the back of our house.

It was difficult to determine what species they were. They stayed around the treetops for the first couple of days. We weren't sure if they had a nest or if they were just passing through.

Then, one day, we saw the birds fly to the treetops and stay there. Ah. They do have a nest.

Were they eagles? Falcons? Hawks?

Unless they came closer, we wouldn't know. It was hard to see any details, even with binoculars.

We still wanted to be ready. The kids spread all our books on birds across the toy room floor and quoted facts to me about the size of nests, what various birds of prey eat and their typical habitats.

Our backyard was turning into a summer classroom. I loved it because this was something they wanted to know. It wasn't something I had imposed on them as a "fun" summer project.

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It was hard to peel our eyes from these intriguing creatures.

As the days passed, we saw more of them. Perhaps it had something to do with the families of rabbits and other small creatures that lived under our deck each summer.

My children frequently reminded me that these birds probably ate small rodents, reptiles and poultry.

We knew the birds had noticed the bounty of the deck's underside when we looked out the window to see one of them sitting on the top of our swing set. He sat very still, intently watching his prey. Nothing was moving from under the deck to the yard or the other way around, so we knew the predator had been spotted as well.

What a magnificent sight. This time we could see every detail on the bird. A slight wind gently lifted the brown and white speckled feathers on the bird's belly as his eyes focused on something under the deck.

We were slightly tense, hoping that a little creature would not meet its demise, yet at the same time curious to see how the bird would attack its prey. That standoff did not resolve before our eyes, because we had to leave. But we were treated to an even closer encounter a few days later.

My son had taken a book out on the deck and sat down on the swing.

As I stood working at the kitchen sink, I saw something out of the corner of my eye swoop down and cross the deck right in front of my son.

"Wow! Did you see that?!" he exclaimed, seemingly glued to his seat.

He was almost close enough to touch the tip of the bird's wing span. A little scary, but exhilarating nonetheless.

I suggested that he take his sketch pad out on the deck for the next fly-by. By his vivid descriptions of the creature, it was obvious that he wanted to draw this bird. He also was determined to get a photograph.

The next day, we had our chance. The bird once again landed on our swingset. We carefully opened the sliding glass door and took one step out on the deck. The bird didn't move, even while we whispered to each other.

Our photograph was slightly out of focus but clear enough to show to a bird-enthusiast friend.

She concluded that we have a family of red-tailed hawks in our backyard.

After re-reading that section in the field guide, we agreed with her.

I'm not sure why these bird chose to settle at our house, but they have provided a nice start to the care-free learning of summer.

That's from the teacher-side of my brain.

The homeowner-side is looking forward to not having mice in the garage this winter.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com

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