Earth Day at the ROM: Saving the Fastest Birds in the World!

Posted: April 25, 2014 - 14:58 , by Aaron Phillips
A young boy carefully pets the back of a hooded Peregrine falcon

Earth Day is an internationally observed celebration promoting the protection and conservation of our planet and its myriad denizens, celebrated every April 22 across the globe.

April 22nd, 2014 was no exception, and it saw an excellent group of students, teachers and special guests gather at the ROM to learn more about the protection of our environment in general, and the conservation of birds of prey in particular.

Students in a studio, listening to a presentation.

50 students from our near neighbour-to-the-north Jesse Ketchum Public School (go Jaguars!), their teachers and chaperones first joined some of our expert ROM Teachers from some time in galleries and the classrooms discussing a variety of topics, ranging from rocks and minerals; habitats and communities; to the conservation of energy and resources.

After lunch, they joined our special guests in the Earth Rangers Studio, in heart of the Life in Crisis: Schad Gallery of Biodiversity for an amazing afternoon on the conservation of birds-of-prey.

A woman on a stage, with a painting of falcons behind her.

First-up was Celia Godkin, celebrated author and illustrator of such acclaimed non-fiction children’s books as Wolf Island, came to share her latest work Skydiver: Saving the Fastest Bird in the World about the conservation of the Peregrine Falcon.

The cover of "Skydiver: Saving the Fastest Bird in World", featuring a Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrines are astonishing aerial hunters, renowned for their tactics worldwide. Unlike many other falcons, that hunt while flying horizontally, Peregrines specialize in hunting birds on the wing using steep vertical dives. In doing so, they are known to achieve speeds in excess of 300 km/h, making them the fastest known member of the animal kingdom. The use of pesticides such as DDT during the 1950’s through 1970’s contributed to a severe reduction in the number of these birds around the globe. The bioaccumulation of the toxins in adult birds led to their females laying eggs with thinner and thinner eggshells, with the result that fewer eggs survived to hatching.

The students from Jesse Ketchum P.S. joined Celia as she read from her book, her illustrations wonderfully capturing the beauty of these raptors while the tale of the ongoing efforts to recover their numbers continues (an effort carried on, among other places, in the heart of downtown Toronto). Celia shared her experience creating the artwork, and meeting Peregrines herself…an experience the students were soon to share.

A man on stage, holding an owl

Next on stage was Chris Ketola, of the Ontario Specialized Species Centre, who came to speak about the general, and specialized adaptations of birds-of-prey with four special guests of his own: a Harris Hawk, a Great Horned Owl, a Spectacled Owl, and, naturally, a Peregrine Falcon. Students were thrilled to learn more about the variety of raptors that can be found around the world, and how their specific adaptations allow them to be such incredible predators by day or night.

A young girl gently pets the breast of a Great Horned Owl

Earth Day is a great day to celebrate, but ultimately it must also serve as reminder that the conservation and protection of our planet is something for which we all must work EVERY day. Learning about the plight of Peregrines, and the conservation success story the represent, through Celia’s work, and the marvel of raptors through Chris’ birds, all in attendance were reminded that life on our planet must co-exist in a delicate balance.

Students, a man, a woman, and a Peregrine falcon on stage

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