Eagles Day takes visitors to see eagles in the wild, teaches about conservation

There is more to Eagles Day than eagles.

It’s true that the 17th annual Kaw Valley Eagles Day included field trips to see bald eagles in the wild and educational presentations on bald eagles’ nesting habits. Children who attended also spent much of Saturday making eagle hats out of paper and little eagles out of clothespins.

But the event, organized by local conservationists and members of the Jayhawk Audubon Society, also sought to educate about a broad range of nature topics. At Free State High School on Saturday, animal conservationists showed off turkey vultures, peregrine falcons and king snakes, as well as the pelts and skulls of beavers and other mammals. Visitors with nerve could examine bizarre products made from African wildlife or sift through the remnants of an owl’s dinner.

Joyce Wolf, an event organizer from the Audubon Society, said about 220 people went on the first field trip of the day to the Clinton Lake Marina, and about 1,000 attended the event altogether, which would be one of the best turnouts in recent memory.

“In a way, I’m kind of surprised,” Wolf said. “It’s such a beautiful day, there are so many other things you could do.”

The sponsorship of the Lawrence school district helped a lot, Wolf said. The district helped distribute information about the event and waived the usual rental fee for the space at Free State High, which it had done in past years but not recently.

Eagles Day began as a celebration of eagles as their populations rebounded from endangered status in the lower 48 states. Since then, it has attracted conservationists and visitors with other interests. Some of the those interests were downright unusual.

Representatives from the Topeka Zoo brought a lamp made from the foot of a rhinoceros, and a black rhino horn that zoo officials said was worth $30,000 on the black market, to educate about the global trade in illegal wildlife products.

Elsewhere, the opportunity to dissect owl pellets — bundles of undigested, coughed-up owl food — was a big hit among the kids. Charlotte Aschenbrenner, a Lawrence bird lover who has been going to Eagles Day for years, said she was surprised at how her granddaughter, Sophie Amison, 6, responded to that activity.

“She got into tearing apart that owl pellet,” Aschenbrenner said. “A lot of kids might think that’s gross.”

On the contrary, Sophie was just one of many kids to leave Free State with a souvenir of a mouse skeleton in a baggie.

Several organizations participated in the event, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Friends of the Kaw, and Prairie Park Nature Center.

Another Eagles Day is planned for next Saturday at the American Legion hall in Perry. For more information, call 785-597-5144.