MORGANTOWN — First graders at Cheat Lake Elementary got a close-up look at a red-tailed hawk Thursday morning.
Jesse Fallon and Vince Slabe, with the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, brought the rescued female hawk to the school for a band-and-release demonstration.
The center offers education programs year-round but this one was special because Fallon’s daughter, Laurel Fallon, is a student in Nicky Decker’s first-grade class.
“They rescue lots of birds,” said 6-year-old Laurel before the demonstration.
She doesn’t get to hold them, she said. But, her dad said, “Laurel helps us almost every day with general care of the birds, including cleanup and food preparation.”
She also helps at school demonstrations, taking props around for the kids to see up close, he said. For this one, she took around reproductions of a hawk egg — spotted for camouflage from other predators — and a hawk.
She pointed out the big eye sockets — for eyes designed to hunt — and tiny brain chamber sized to hold just enough brain to do what it needs to do, which is mostly hunting.
Fallon, the center’s director of veterinary medicine, said they’ve rescued about 350 birds so far this year, mostly raptors — owls and hawks.
The birds come from various sources, primarily people driving down the roads who spot an injured bird or residents who find an injured bird in their yards. Folks call the center’s injured bird hotline 304-906-5438 — and learn how to secure the bird and bring it to the center’s volunteer vets at Cheat Lake Animal Hospital.
The vets examine the bird, assess its injuries, treat and stabilize it, then take it to the adjacent site for longer-term rehab.
This one had been hit by a car and suffered some head trauma, he said. It had been under care for only three weeks, having recovered rapidly. She was eating on her own at the end of the first week and was ready to exercise and get her muscles back into shape.
The kids gathered on the playground for the demonstration. The hawk was in a box as the kids assembled. “Look at his little tail sticking out!” one boy said.
Fallon took the hawk out — hooded to keep her calm — and show the kids her wings and talons and beak. He explained a bit of how hawks live and about how they cared for her. She ate about half a rat a day, he said.
Some kids stayed up close, some backed far away.
Fallon and Slabe, a biologist at the center, took some measurements and then took out a big ring of metal bands, used for tracking released wild birds. Slabe, who’s licensed for bird banding, placed one on her leg.
Fallon then pulled off her hood and set her free. “Have a nice day, birdie,” one boy shouted.
The playground is surrounded by tall trees and everyone expected her to soar to the treetops. Instead, she flew to the roof of the house next door and all the kids burst out laughing. They ran to the edge of the playground to see her perch, but she rested for just a minute before flying away.