Chewonki expert knows who's who in owl world
Article Date: 2004-12-19 Source: http://pressherald.mainetoday.com
By Deirdre Fleming
Wiscasset, Maine, U.S.A. - Chris Coleman never expected to end up in Maine teaching children about owls, but now Coleman and four owls lead the Chewonki Foundation's most popular
Coleman joined Chewonki four years ago. The nonprofit in Wiscasset provides
educational experiences to foster an understanding of the natural world.
Coleman was a camping instructor but quickly stepped into the outreach program,
conducting traveling workshops that bring the environment, including live owls,
Today Coleman is a certified wildlife rehabilitator and helps release as many as
20 owls a year back into the wild.
With his group of four non-releasable owls, Coleman helps children from Kittery
to Presque Isle identify Maine's native birds and remember conservation messages
that will help the birds.
"One lesson I like to teach kids is to discourage them from throwing an apple or
banana peel out the car window," he said. "They think it might not be litter,
but what it does is often attract a mouse to the apple core, and the owl to the
mouse," Coleman said.
"For the same reason you don't eat your dinner in a ditch by the side of the
road, they shouldn't have to."
Q: Describe the owl program that Chewonki brings into schoolrooms around Maine.
A: It's an hourlong presentation and we tend to adapt it to any age, as young as
preschool and adult programs as well. It starts off with an introduction on the
basic owls and what makes an owl an owl, the four physical features that make it
unique. Then we go right into a slide show and playing owl calls. . . .
They are nocturnal and so you may not see them, but there is a good chance
you'll hear them because they are quite vocal. A lot of times they are mistaken
for other animals.They don't all go "hoot hoot."
Then the program ends with three live non-releasable owls, owls that are
Q: What animals are they often mistaken for?
A: Some owls, like the short-haired owl, make a squealing noise that for people
walking around at night, it's a scary noise. Some noises are designed to scare
away other animals. It makes the owls sound bigger than they are.
Q: Do any of the noises make them sound human?
A: Not really. They are more cat- and dog-like noises.
Q: What are the four distinct traits that make an owl an owl?
A: We really want to get across with kids that they have big eyes, that they
have sharp talons, and a hooked beak and their head is a disk so they can hear
really well at night. . . . They don't have the ability to move their eyes like
we can, because it takes a lot of muscles. If they had muscles in their head, it
would be too heavy, so their eyes are fixed. Instead, they have extra neck bones
to allow them to turn their head. They can turn it 270 degrees.
Q: Can you tell from your program if is is the first experience with a live owl
for many children?
A: Yeah, you can definitely tell. The fun part for me is finishing the slide
show. You know all the people are not there to see me talk about owls. They are
there to see the live owls. I end the program sort of saving the best for last.
The expressions on their faces are amazing.
You can tell they are in awe of the beauty. I think people see personality and
character in an owl's face, more so than with other birds. It's easy to
personify them, to relate them to humans the way they look. They have big, alert
eyes. There is a lot of jaw dropping when they see the birds, especially the
bigger owls. We have two great horned owls and two barred owls.
Q: What interaction do you allow with these owls?
A: They are not allowed to touch (the owls). The smaller owls, we walk around
the room with them and bring them relatively close to the children, reminding
them not to reach out and touch them. That's as much as we offer as far as live
owls. We make sure there are a lot of props. We really encourage a hands-on
program and pass around owl wings.
Q: How long has Chewonki had its owls?
A: Some of the smaller owls, only four to five years. We've had one, Byron, for
21 years. She was shot in the right side of her body and we had to remove one
wing. She's quite popular, because it's kind of sad they shot her. People like
it that she's really old. She's living beyond her life expectancy. Barred owls
normally live 10 to 15 years.
Q: Does she look older?
A: No. With barred owls, when they are born they have a bright yellow beak that
goes gray as they get older, but you would have to know that ahead of time.
Q: Maine Audubon runs an owl survey in which participants are told not to call
to the owls outside the survey. Do you worry children will do this?
A: I tell people it's possible to call to owls. It's very rewarding to get a
response back. Some are more likely to call back than others. But I tell them,
while it's a good thing to go out in the back yard and call them, it's
discouraging for the owl. It's not really fair to them, for various reasons.
If you do it and get an answer, just do it once. If you continue to do it, it's
not fair to the owl.
Q: What conservation lessons do you teach children through the owl program?
A: There are a lot of owls that end up getting hit by cars. There are a few
different reasons for that. There are things you can do. There are other things
that are out of your hands.
The amount of road being built every year is encroaching on their habitat and
dividing it, forcing them to cross a road to get from one hunting area to a
nest. . . . I make sure they know about habitat loss.
Q: Are many owls struck by cars?
A: Most end up getting hit by a car. I see personally 10 to 20 a year (that are
struck by vehicles but still alive and require rehabilitation). We like to say
our release is about 85 percent (of those owls found injured).
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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