Birds of Prey Soar in Washingtonville
By Eugenia Moskowitz
Washingtonville sixth graders were treated to a display of Bill Robinson’s birds of prey on May 23 in the middle school gymnasium where four very large birds were presented: a red-tailed hawk, a turkey vulture, an owl, and a peregrine falcon. The birds were magnificent and the students were amazed to experience their size, sounds, feel the wind from their wings, and understand the ways they’ve adapted to hunt for (or scavenge) and eat their prey.
Robinson — a middle school teacher, college field biology and ornithology instructor, and founder of the NYS Falconry Association — deftly and humorously taught the students about the birds’ adaptations to habitats and food sources, as well as their adaptations to competition from other animals for the same limited food supply. He explained the delicate balance of predator and prey in the wild, discussed each bird’s unique adaptations for survival, and showed the importance of these birds in the whole balance of nature. He even taught the students about man’s historical use of birds for their own hunting purposes by bringing out a fifth bird, a (comparatively small) Harris hawk, which flew to the gymnasium rafters in instinctual search of prey. Robinson explained how falcons were weighed and, when the correct weight (not too hungry, not too full) were flown to catch rabbits and grouse and bring them back to their keepers.
He showed students how an owl swallows its prey whole and spits up the indigestible remains as owl pellets, which can then be dissected to show what the owl ate. The birds were also walked through the audience so students could appreciate the difference in feathers of each bird: the falcon which requires stiff feathers to dive-bomb its prey along rocky ledges, and the owl with soft feathers who prefers to fly silently under cover of darkness.
As a master teacher, with every morsel of information given, he got the birds to simultaneously display what he was telling the students, so that in 40 minutes they fully experienced the world of these birds which they see and hear daily in their own backyards.
Robinson made the award-winning Birds of Prey educational video used in science classrooms in Washingtonville and nationwide, and his trained animals have appeared in movies, such as the falcon that starred in The Royal Tenenbaums. He has been a regular speaker for over three decades at outdoor education facilities such as the Ashokan Field Campus, Frost Valley YMCA, Camp Greenkill YMCA, Sharpe Reservation, and the Taconic Outdoor Education Center. In 2003, he was awarded the Environmental Impact Award by the NYS Outdoor Education Association. Robinson regularly comes to Washingtonville Middle School to present this lecture. Parents can learn more about his ornithology curriculum at http://www.RobinsonsWildlifeLectures.com.