The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 2, 2007


Fourth-graders find it's a hoot to see owls at school

Four birds of prey swooped in to see the fourth graders at the Carlisle School on January 22. The students are finishing up their owl unit. They have read Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat, dissected owl pellets, and learned the name of at least one type of owl that lives in Carlisle. The logical next step was to meet some owls. Luckily, with generous funding from the Carlisle School Association, the cultural enrichment committee invited Jim Parks of Wingmasters to give the students a first-hand look at these beautiful creatures.

Birds are the stars

If you perform with animals, you should expect, as any actor will tell you, to be upstaged. This was certainly true for Parks, but it was also his intention and strategy. First introducing a Screech Owl, he had the audience's complete attention as he held it high and explained the small owl's camouflage technique; the owl can fluff feathers on his head, making them look like branches or leaves. Joking as he cleaned up a few droppings with antibacterial wipes, he cajoled the small owl into making his little "screech" sound, to the delight of the group.

"Whoo, whoo" owns the school?

Jim Parks brings a Saw-whet Owl close to Reilly Harring and the fourth-grade students. (Photo by Cynthia Sorn)

It is illegal in Massachusetts to own wild owls, Parks explained to the students. All the owls he brought with him had recovered from injuries and are allowed under a "Rehabilitation and Education" permit. The rescued Great Horned Owl, which had been owned illegally, had a malformed eye and kept his head bent to the side, giving it the appearance of studying everything as it hooted. Parks encouraged this owl to make its "weepy" sound, which was sort of a light trill. Owls have a variety of calls, Parks told the children, and he played recordings of some of them.

Explaining that the Great Horned, which hunts silently on huge wings, is the most powerful bird in the Northeast, Parks lifted up one of the owl's legs to show its long talons. He demonstrated the power of the owl's wings by gently raising and lowering the owl, causing the bird to stretch his wings. The first few rows of students could feel the draft as the wings silently flapped. As he returned the owl to its travel box, the owl continued to hoot loudly. Parks explained that the owl marks his territory with his voice, so "the entire school now belongs to him." The students laughed.

Barn and Saw-whet owls

Parks next displayed the spooky-looking Barn Owl, which is endangered and found only on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket in Massachusetts. With its heart-shaped white face, Parks speculated that the Barn Owl probably scared people as it perched on gravestones next to churches centuries ago. But, the little Saw-whet Owl captured everyone's heart. Although only three ounces in weight, Parks said "it thinks it is big." That one had been injured when it flew across a street and hit a car.

Well-mannered group

The students were allowed to ask questions after the presentations and many of them were concerned about the owls' past injuries. One student asked if the man who illegally owned the Great Horned Owl was arrested. One student asked about the size of a Saw-whet Owl pellet, to which Parks replied it was only the size of a thumbnail. After the presentation, Parks noted how well- behaved the seven rows of fourth graders were, despite sitting for so long on the hard floor of the exercise room. He added that he always enjoys coming to the Carlisle School because he can easily connect his presentation to the curriculum.

More information

The fourth-grade resource pages, on the school's web site, have numerous links to owls. Go to For more information on Wingmasters, go to

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito