Raptor Center birds swoop in to visit middle school art students

Sixth-grade students in Ann Phillippi’s painting class continually asked: “Is this the day that the raptors are coming?”

Molly Gezella shows off an Eastern screech owl to curious students after the program. The owl fell from its nest as a baby and humans kept it too long before bringing it in to the Raptor Center; so, it is not afraid of humans like its raptor counterparts, a harmful instinct in the wild. Photo by Olivia Koester

Molly Gezella shows off an Eastern screech owl to curious students after the program. The owl fell from its nest as a baby and humans kept it too long before bringing it in to the Raptor Center; so, it is not afraid of humans like its raptor counterparts, a harmful instinct in the wild. Photo by Olivia Koester

On Oct. 30, four raptors – a bald eagle, peregrine falcon and two owls – finally arrived at Anoka Middle School for the Arts.

A naturalist from the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center accompanied the birds and taught students about their habits and how she cares for them.

After learning more about raptors, students in digital productions and painting classes are collaborating to create art that features the birds.

Digital productions students, taught by Chris Lewis, photographed the raptors during the presentations Oct. 30. The painting classes will consult the edited photos as they refine their watercolor technique.

Previous units tie in perfectly for both classes.

Lewis’ classes have been studying nature and wildlife. They haven’t done too much photo editing yet. “They’re becoming a little more familiar with the cameras,” he said.

Students captured the birds from various angles, taking turns with cameras as naturalist Molly Gezella spoke about the birds she was handling.

Phillippi’s painting students are in the middle of a unit on John James Audubon, a naturalist famous for his paintings of birds. Seeing the live birds helps students learn about detail and careful observation, Phillippi said.

Some students were nervous to encounter such large birds, but the raptors were even more afraid of them, according to Gezella.

“You’re more likely to be attacked by a robin than any bird of prey,” Gezella said.

Raptors are distinguished by their curved beaks, talons and large eyes, she said.

The sixth graders gasped when Gezella fed the larger of the two owls, the great horned owl, a mouse. They could hear the owl crack the mouse’s skull before swallowing it in one gulp.

Students questioned why Gezella wore gloves to handle the birds. “We have a relationship, but we’re not best friends,” she said, taking out the bald eagle, who had an injured wing.

The Raptor Center, a nonprofit affiliated with the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine, takes in injured birds and rehabilitates them, reintroducing them to the wild when possible. This year, the center has taken in 830 birds to date, Gezella said.

Her favorite part of the job: “I love watching the kids process … that moment of learning is why we’re here.” she said.

Olivia Koester is at olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

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