I think this year's Wing and Wetlands event held at the Lost Island Prairie Wetland Nature Center on Saturday was the best yet! Not only was the weather perfect, but the program was excellent as well.
The day opened with a Trumpeter Swan Release and, in the afternoon, Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever members sponsored a Greenwings and Ringnecks Youth program. I heard that this year's event might have been the largest ever with over 90 kids participating!
But prior to the afternoon of educational activities, Kathy McKee, a guest speaker from the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines visited the Nature Center and brought along a few of her animal friends. There was an African pygmy hedgehog, a baby alligator, a Rouen duck named Fiona, a screech owl, and an armadillo by the name of Scute. Each animal was introduced and brought around to each table so that everyone could get a close-up view. You even got to touch some of the critters!
The hedgehog was small and cute and the kids and adults alike took turns stroking the "quills" on its back. The "quills" are composed of keratin, the same protein that makes your nails hard, and provided the little critter some protection when it rolled up into a ball. Hedgehogs love to eat bugs and are a protected species in England and France.
The baby alligator wasn't such a baby--it was over three feet long! Alligators are native the southern United States. McKee explained that alligators have extremely powerful jaws that can clamp down on its prey so quickly, and with such force, that it could take your finger or arm right off. However, she noted that the muscles that the animal uses to open its mouth are very weak and a small child would be able to hold its mouth shut.
The Rouen duck is a domestic cousin of the wild Mallard duck. They are bred for their meat and are very popular food birds in France. Fiona the duck looks just like her Mallard cousins. She has webbed feet and oily feathers to keep the water from logging her down when she goes for a swim, however she can't fly very well. Fiona is a widow. Her mate, Shrek, recently passed away.
The screech owl was an amazing--and inspiring--bird. The owl came to the Blank Park Zoo badly injured. She was thought to have possibly been hit by a passing vehicle and her broken wings were amputated to save her life. Did you know that screech owls' eyes are fixed in their heads? Their eyes do not rotate like ours and, so, the birds must turn their heads every which way to see all around them. Screech owls find mice the tastiest.
Armadillos are mammals, but they look almost reptilian. Most surprising is that these unusual looking creatures have hair on their tummies! Armadillos like to dig and their tough hide is like a suit of armor, protecting them from predators. In fact, the armadillo visiting the Nature Center is named Scute. "Scutes" are the horn-like scales covering the armadillo's body.
The visit from the Blank Park Zoo was just the opening act on Saturday afternoon. The rest of the day featured opportunities for youth to shoot BB guns, practice casting, clean a fish and fry it up, put up a tent, and learn about decoys. It was truly the best Wings and Wetlands event yet!