As Steve Stone of the American Wildlife Refuge educated a group of first- and second-graders about Snoopy, the black vulture resting on his gloved hand, the children suddenly let out a collective “Ewwww!” as Stone continued to talk.
But Stone knows his audience. Monday he rolled with the punches at Vandora Springs Elementary School, even after Snoopy spurted a liquid white stream onto the protective tarp on the floor to the awe of young children.
“A lot of my humor is designed for the kids. You say poop and they love you. I also try to make it interesting on the adult level.” Stone said. “Education for the kids is the best thing. We do about 120 shows a year, and most of them are kids shows.”
Vandora Springs students filed in large multi-grade groups into the gym to sit in rows and watch the demonstration of birds from Raleigh Raptor Refuge. Sure enough, he warned the children that the birds of prey he’d show them would be excited and perhaps turn the stage into their toilet.
He also noted that the birds would be tethered to his gloved hand so there could be no danger. He also debunked the idea that the birds, which max out at the four-and-a-half pound hawk, couldn’t pick up pet dogs or cats.
Stone paraded out a series of birds including a red-tailed hawk, black vulture, great horned owl, barred owl, barn owl and a tiny-yet-full-grown screech owl. Without fail the children would react with screams of delight or amazement when the bird was pulled out or try to fly away, teachers and Stone working to get them back to paying attention after the disruption.
Then he’d tell them interesting facts, such as how a barn owl can hear and locate a mouse by its heart beat from 100 feet away.
“We just wanted to do something different. We normally have plays and dances,” said Carrie Bischof, president of the Parent Teacher Association that organized the event. “We just thought most kids, and most adults, have never seen these kinds of birds. It was awesome.”
The American Wildlife Refuge rescues and rehabilitates all kinds of animals including birds. Most of the birds brought to the organization, Stone told the children, were struck and injured by vehicles.
One animal, which happened to fit the school’s Eagle mascot, was missing. The organization’s golden eagle died recently. The bird was 47 years old.
“We didn‘t get to see the eagle but we saw a lot of cool stuff,” Bischof said.