By Teresa L. Benns
MONTE VISTA — Monte Vista Middle School gymnasium was the site of a raptor exhibition staged for Homelake veterans last Friday presented by HawkQuest of Parker, a longtime Colorado educational and protection organization for birds of prey.
Kin Quitugua, master falconer and longtime environmental educator, guided the audience through the process of raptor hunts, detailing and demonstrating how the birds hone in on their prey. Birds flew through air from the gloved hands of Quitugua to his assistants, gliding gracefully from trainer to handler.
Birds exhibited during the demonstration included a bald eagle, a great-horned owl, a peregrine falcon and a Harris hawk. Veterans answered questions during the program and posed for photos with the birds.
Quitugua told the audience that owls are known as “tigers of the night” and have eyes much like cats. The great horned owl shown at the demonstration had been injured and was scheduled to be put down when it was rescued by Hawkquest. “The falcon is the most famous bird of prey,” Quitugua explained, when introducing the peregrine falcon. “They’ve been clocked at 243 MPH.”
During the presentation, Quitugua also told those attending that Golden eagles were used in Mongolia and by the Russians to hunt their prey from horseback. Demonstrations of how the birds track their prey were given using students holding a toy mouse with the bird just over their shoulder, ready to pounce.
Following the demonstration, Homelake residents were able to purchase T-shirts, caps and souvenirs to help fund the organization.
More raptor information
In a later interview, Quitugua explained that while HawkQuest is not a bird rescue organization, it does adopt “birds that are physically or mentally impaired.” The meaning of mentally impaired, he explained is when people take the birds in as pets and they can no longer hunt in the wild. Birds not able to hunt for themselves suffer a 70-80 percent mortality rate in the wild, he noted.
Generally birds face a host of dangers just living in their natural habitats without any additional handicapping factors, he explained, They risk electrocution from power lines, pesticide poisoning, injury from vehicles and habitat reduction, as well as other dangers.
Quitugua also noted that birds in captivity live far longer than those in the wild. Great-horned owls, for example, live 9-10 years in the wild and as long as 30 years in captivity. Eagles live 25-30 years in the wild, but can live up to the grand old age of 70 or 80 in captivity.
HawkQuest is a Colorado nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charitable organization. HawkQuest’s approach to education in classrooms and lecture halls is participatory, allowing the audience to experience HawkQuest’s eagles, owls, falcons and hawks at close range.
The following information was taken from the Hawkquest website at www.hawkquest.org
HawkQuest’s goal is to make education both meaningful and fun, while creating an atmosphere which fosters respect for the land and the stewardship of all living things. The group’s message concerning the importance of biodiversity, of the finality of extinction, and of man’s need to nurture his world is interwoven with discussions of the raptors’ place in the ecosystem. They share this message with hundreds of thousands of people throughout the United States each year.
Quitugua founded HawkQuest in 1986. He has trained, handled and flown birds of prey as diverse as the Bald and Golden eagles and the Saw-whet owl. For more than 25 years, Kin has dedicated himself to educating the public about the place of raptors in our ecology.
He created HawkQuest believing environmental awareness is “a key to the survival of the world as we know it, and education - of our nation’s youth in particular - is paramount to this process.” He has developed many educational programs such as HawkQuest’s unique Classroom-in-the-Wild.
HawkQuest offers four distinct outreach programs, plus booth appearances and special events, bringing live birds of prey to people of all ages, from preschool children to senior citizens. The program strives to impress upon audiences the importance of preserving ecosystems and the wildlife that depend on them. Through understanding the world around them, diverse populations will appreciate that they can influence the environment positively.
Quitugua has received national recognition for his work combining educational and ecological concerns, having appeared on both local and national television programs. Kin also serves as a consultant to organizations which promote the welfare of birds of prey.
•A raptor is a bird that hunts and eats live animals and kills with its feet.
•A Red-tailed Hawk can spy a meadow mouse from 100 feet.
•A Ferruginous Hawk is fierce and strong enough to scare coyotes away from its nest.
•Merlins mimic the flight of pigeons to sneak up on unwary prey.
•Owl’s eyes are fixed in their sockets so they must rotate their heads (up to 270 degrees) to look around.
•Owl’s eyes are like humans’ in that they have binocular vision. Because the eyes point straight ahead, they can see the same thing with both eyes at the same time, increasing their visual acuity.
•Elf Owls are the smallest in the world. Hiding in Saguaro Cactus holes by day, it shields its conspicuous eyes with a wing.
From “Talons: North American Birds of Prey” by Millie Miller and Cyndi Nelson, Published by Johnson Books, Boulder, Colo.