Brigid J. Ripley

Carson captivates her audience.

Emma Winge, Photography Editor

On Thursday, February 25, Mrs. Suo’s third grade classroom was transformed by a visit from Elsa Hansen, a naturalist curator with the Cable Natural History Museum and two of their three raptors.  The third and fourth graders and the fifth and sixth graders had the opportunity to learn all kinds of new facts about raptors – they have curved beaks, their eyeballs are so big they’re fixed in place, which is why they need to move their heads to see and they have very sharp talons.  Hansen introduced the students to Carson, a Red-tailed Hawk who is named after Rachel Carson.  Rachel Carson was an American marine biologist conservationist.  Her books were credited with the advancing the global environmental movement.

Before the introduction of the next feathered feature, Hansen had the students participate in a visual field guide, explaining that while all raptors share very similar features, especially when viewed way up in the sky, many make very distinct patterns with their bodies, which helps make them more easily recognizable. She called for seven volunteers and while describing the shape each raptor – big and little hawks, falcon, osprey, eagle, vulture – made, assigned a student to be one of the raptors and hold a shape they made in the sky.  It was well received and really helped the students to visualize the birds they were portraying.

The second visitor was a falcon  named Aldo.  As with Carson, he was also named for someone famous – Aldo Leopold.  Aldo Leopold was one of the early leaders of the American wilderness movement.  Also was much smaller than Carson, but equally as fierce.  He weighed about the same as a box of paperclips.  Bigger falcons could top out at 3-4 pounds.  Which lead to the next part of Elsa’s presentation – DDT.

In an effort to rid the world of mosquitos, scientists created and used a harsh chemical – DDT.  An unknown and unfortunate result of this chemical was damage to the peregrine falcon eggs. The falcons were crushing their eggs when they sat on them.  Because their calcium levels were so low – an unknown side effect of the DDT – the eggs they produced excessively fragile egg shells.  Elsa enthralled the students with a demonstration: just how much weight can a healthy egg support?  First, she encased an egg in foam to help it stand up.  Then she placed it in a box.  This was quickly followed by a crate.  The room was quite with the exception of a few gasps or “this is it!  It’s for sure going to break!”  Turns out, it had a bit more weight to support.  With a student tracking the weight of various objects, Elsa continued to add weight to the crate on the box.  In went a big can of baked beans, a small container of pebbles, a large rock….pffffft!  crack!  The egg finally gave way.  The record keeper read off the weights and the calculator student added them up.  Total weight the egg supported?  Twenty pounds!  Elsa then asked the students if humans had a big impact on the peregrine falcon to a chorus of “yes!”  Lesson learned.  Make smart, healthy choices and don’t do damage to the environment and those critters who rely on it for life.