The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 15, 2013

St. Peter school children learn about world of raptors

By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer

ST PETER — The kindergartners filed into the cafeteria just as quietly as mice Friday morning.

Luckily, they didn’t look like mice, though, because there were several feathered carnivores that would have made meals of them, as Mike Billington of the University of Minnesota Raptor Center quickly taught the kids.

 Billington had four raptors to introduce to the students of South Elementary Early Learning Center in St. Peter — a bald eagle, a red-tailed hawk, a peregrine falcon and an owl.

“Want to know a secret? These birds are afraid of you,” Billington said, adding that due to the kindergartners’ “grizzly bear” size compared to the birds, they’d think the students would want to eat them for lunch. “Are you going to eat my birds today?”

“Noooooooooooooooo,” they said.

Just as promised, the kindergartners kept “frozen like icicles” as to not upset the birds, and one by one Billington brought the raptors out, offering interesting and disgusting information about their hunting, eating and even pooping habits.

As Billington taught the kids about the prey of red-tailed hawks, such as rats, mice squirrels and bunnies, he fed one perched on his hand with pieces of dead rat. When the peregrine falcon came out for a visit, Billington fed her a dead, fuzzy baby bird, allowing her to demonstrate that the prey’s beak (a potential weapon) is the first to be consumed.

“She’s holding her food with her feet and she’s eating the head first,” Billington said, who got the biggest kick out of seeing the falcon slurp down the innards.

“I saw the whole thing,” a boy said from the front row.

Billington said the Raptor Center only has one vulture, which is the fifth kind of raptor. The bird is older — in its 30s — and had to stay behind. But maybe that was best, because its habits might not be suitable for a place where kids eat lunch.

“They throw up when they’re scared,” Billington said. “And they poop on their legs when they’re hot.”

“Ewwwwwwwwwwww,” the kids said together.