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Birds of Prey swoop into Matter Park

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CENTER OF ATTENTION: Jack, a Red-tailed Hawk, sits atop a crate during the “Birds of Prey” program in the Garden House at Matter Park on Wednesday.
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CONSERVATION: Mark Booth, director of Take Flight Wildlife Education, watches as a nervous barn owl flaps its wings during the “Birds of Prey” program in the Garden House at Matter Park on Wednesday.

By Clay Winowiecki - cwinowiecki@chronicle-tribune.com

Vultures and hawks and owls, oh my!

Mark Booth of Take Flight! Wildlife Education brought a flock of live birds to Matter Park for an educational and interactive experience on Wednesday. The talk was part of a Garden Education Series program titled “Birds of Prey and People.” The talk took place at the Garden House and was hosted by The Gardens of Matter Park. 

Warm popcorn and hot cider was served to families as they came inside from the chilly autumnal evening.

During Booth’s talk, he focused on the natural history of falcons and hawks, while discussing the importance of biodiversity to environmental health.

“As a living organism, human beings require healthy ecosystems and the primary methods to tell if an ecosystem is healthy enough is looking at the beings that live there,” Booth said. “It’s called biodiversity. More endangered animals means a less healthy environment. Every time we do something for nature, we’re doing something for ourselves.”

Booth is a federally licensed falconer and long-time educator, having performed bird education programs at the Indianapolis Zoo for many years. He has worked with birds of prey for more than 30 years.

Booth showed children and event attendees a peregrine falcon, hawks, owls and a black vulture.

During one part of the show, a red-tailed hawk was fed a dead mouse. The predator tore apart its prey as spectators looked on.

Booth also mixed in theatrical techniques in his show to keep children on the edge of their seats.

“He’s educational and very entertaining,” said Cheryl Bell, board member of the Friends of the Gardens of Matter Park. “Everyone is having so much fun, they don’t know they’re learning.”

This is the second year Booth has given this talk at Matter Park. Both last year and this year, he was so popular there was standing room only.

One local grandmother took her 7-year-old grandchild to the event.

“She loves anything educational and to do with nature,” said Kim Porter. “It teaches kids respect for their environment, how nature works and how they can better enrich the environment by taking care of their animals and their plants.”

During Booth’s talk he discussed the birds needs for survival and he brought them around the room to show attendees what the animals look like up close.

Booth raises and trains the animals himself, even training hawks for hunting. All of the Booth’s birds are either rescues or have been raised in captivity.

The Garden Education Series is a program that takes place from March until November. Some programs focus on gardening, while others take a look at environmental topics.

“(Our) speakers are some of the best experts in their subjects in the State of Indiana,” Bell said.

“We’re doing these programs to educate people in Marion to give them a high quality but fun chance to learn about nature,” Bell said.

Children who are homeschooled and attended the event also received a science credit.

Nature education is of high importance, according to Bell.

“If the things that we’re doing are harmful to the wildlife, then it’s harmful to us too,” she said. “We’re teaching people how interconnected our lives are with wildlife.”

The event was also sponsored by the City of Marion Parks Department and the Friends of the Gardens. This was the last talk of the year, the next season begins in March.