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Raptor Fest offers close encounters with birds of prey, family-friendly activities
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Elachee Nature Science Center has a red tailed hawk they keep in captivity because it's blind in one eye. Visitors to Elachee's Raptor Fest can see the bird as well as others so children, families and nature lovers can learn about wild birds of prey. - photo by Scott Rogers

This March you can spot hawks, owls and falcons — no binoculars required — at the Elachee Nature Center for the fifth Raptor Fest.

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 16, children and adults will get the chance to spend some one-on-one time with raptors and learn just how essential the predatory birds are to the environment.

Tickets cost $10 per person and $5 for Elachee members.

Kim Marks, director of development and communications at Elachee, said the center receives calls almost on a daily basis regarding injured birds found on the side of the road. The topic of birds is near and dear to most people’s hearts in the area.

Through exposing the general public to birds of prey, Marks said Elachee aims to impart a deeper respect for the different species of local raptors.

“I hope No.1 that they understand how to recognize birds that are flying overhead,” she said. “And, to understand their role, how important they are and not to be afraid of them.”

Mallory Pendleton, Elachee’s education program manager and camp director, has taken over the role this year as the event’s lead coordinator.

She said people can expect to see some of their favorite bird experts, including Dale Kernahan from Wings to Soar, Buster Brown from Georgia Mountain Falconry and Beth Thomson from Thomson Raptors.

With Wings to Soar’s demonstration, Pendleton said people will see birds of prey fly across the room and amaze people with their predatory instincts.

“Song birds, you can see those a lot when you hike, but raptors are more secretive,” she said. “You don’t get close encounters with them, unless it’s this type of program. Georgia has such a diverse group of birds in general, and it’s really important to appreciate that.”

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Christian Shallabarger shows off a harris hawk during Raptor Fest on Saturday at Elachee Nature Science Center in Gainesville. Shallabarger is a falconer with Winged Ambassadors in Newnan. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Other nature centers, including Amicalola Falls and Chattahoochee Nature Center, will turn out to the event, adding their raptor knowledge to the pool of experts.

Pendleton said presentations with live birds of prey will continue throughout the day. Kids will also receive the opportunity to participate in crafts and games.

One of the family-friendly activities includes a bird hurdle race, which Pendleton said will open up discussion about the challenges birds have now — whether flying into buildings or experiencing other migration hindrances because of human impact.

Kids can also knock over boxes, playing out a live-action version of the popular mobile game, “Angry Birds.” Pendleton said children will set up boxes in fun shapes and see how many they can strike down.

As for crafts, kids will have the option of choosing among face-painting, making binoculars out of toilet paper rolls, creating their own bird beaks and forming a tiny bird out of a paper plate.

The event will carry on, rain or shine. Marks said free shuttle buses will drive around Elachee, transporting people to and from designated parking areas.

“The most important thing is to make sure that people know this is fun and educational,” Marks said. “It’s a great opportunity for folks to learn.”

For more information about the Raptor Fest, visit www.elachee.org and search for the event under the public programs tab, or call the nature center at 770-535-1976.

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Buster Brown with Georgia Mountain Falconry speaks about an owl he is holding during Raptor Fest on Saturday at Elachee Nature Science Center in Gainesville. Several live bird presentations were held throughout the day. - photo by Erin O. Smith
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