On Monday morning, the first-graders at Beattie Elementary had a lesson in birds.
Lt. Gov. Mike Foley showed up to help, as did Elliott, a barred owl with just one wing and very large, very round black eyes.
The two guests met the students in the school's outdoor garden area and the first-graders made nest feeders -- small burlap bags with nesting materials stuffed inside for birds to use to build their homes.
They played a bird-calling game, looking for their partner based on the bird call assigned them.
They listened to the lieutenant governor, who escaped a bunch of boring meetings to read them a book -- and true story -- about red-tailed hawks that made their nest on a New York City apartment building.
Foley also mentioned Nebraska’s very own city-dwelling peregrine falcons, who have made their home on the top of the state Capitol, where he works and attends boring meetings.
All these activities were part of a festival, the first such school festival honoring National Migratory Bird Month.
This is the second year Nebraska has celebrated the month that state officials decided could be an expansion of International Migratory Bird Day, which has been around for ages, according to Lindsay Rogers, a wildlife education specialist with Nebraska Game and Parks.
Last year, various state agencies and organizations celebrated the month with about 50 events. They’re doing the same this year, although this is the first year they took the fun to a school.
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It’s important, Rogers said, both to spend a month recognizing how critically important birds are to Nebraska, and to help students understand why.
Birds help spread seeds and they eat bugs and they contribute to the economy by drawing bird watchers to Nebraska's outdoor recreation areas.
And while sandhill cranes might be the most famous of Nebraska’s migratory birds, they are but a small portion of the fowl that migrate through our state, Rogers said. That’s because Nebraska is smack dab in the middle of the central fly zone.
Imagine an hourglass, Rogers said, and birds that come from all over (from the wide ends) and fly through Nebraska (the skinny part in the middle).
“We’re extremely fortunate to have more than 450 species of birds,” she said.
So that’s why, on a Monday morning, Beattie first-graders got to go outside and learn about birds and meet Elliott.
The barred owl has been living at the Pioneers Park Nature Center since he was rescued after getting caught in a fence, said Andrea Faas, who took him to Beattie on Monday.
Turns out, they couldn’t fix its broken wing and had to amputate it, and that meant he couldn’t fly or hunt or protect itself from bigger birds.
So Elliott lives at the Nature Center and was not at all sure he was happy about being at Beattie Monday, even though the first-graders were very quiet and signed thank you rather than shouting it in their normal first-grader thank-you voices.
But Elliott did OK, perched on Faas’ arm while she told students all about him and invited them to visit him at the Nature Center.
“He lives outside most of the time, in the cedar tree,” she said.
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