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Nature Schooling Lesson: Death & Human Impacts on Nature

*Trigger Warning - Animal death with non-graphic photos

A great horned owl in Central Florida

One of my favorite things to do is ride around in the woods with my dad and stepmom. They are amazing stewards of the land, know the woods well, and I am grateful to learn from them and explore with them. We see amazing wildlife every single time. Something we've been really excited about this spring was watching a great horned owl family. The nesting pair took over an old eagle nest and successfully raised one chick. It was exciting to monitor the nest over a few months and watch the chick grow and, eventually, fledge.

Big little fluff-ball!

But on this day, very close to the nest location, we came upon a tragic scene. An adult great horned owl was dead, hanging upside down on a sign post. Ironically, a conservation sign. Presumably, it had landed on this sign to hunt for food. You can often find birds of prey doing this, as it's a good vantage point to see prey crossing the road. It's talon must have gotten stuck on the wire holding the sign, and once it panicked, got upside down and became exhausted, there was no hope. It was painful to see how recently the bird had died. It was in absolutely perfect condition, and I am positive if we had been there just hours earlier we possibly could've saved it.

After the initial shock of the discovery settled, I explained to my 3.5 year old what we found and asked if he wanted to see it. As with most 3 year olds, he doesn't fully understand death, but it is a topic we've started discussing when it comes up. Thankfully, pets and other animals are his only personal experiences thus far.

Things we learned and talked about together on this day:

  • What a great horned owl looks like up close

  • Why we aren't usually allowed to be this close to them

  • How beautiful their feathers are

  • How sharp their talons are

  • How large their wingspan is

  • How humans can impact the environment and wildlife, both negatively and positively

  • And many discussions about death

Death is such a hard thing to teach to little minds
Learning about wingspans
Learning how sharp talons are, and why

I'm thankful for these lessons, and I know they will help foster questions and thoughts in his expanding mind, but I absolutely hate the circumstances that allowed this lesson.

I will remember, and mourn, this owl for many years. While in the area, we saw one adult and the fledged juvenile. So we are pretty certain it was the other parent that died. We were looking forward to enjoying watching this family for many years to come, but now the chances are the other adult may have to move on to find another mate and we may never see them again.

*I will not disclose the location, nor the agency who manages the land. While this was a preventable, human-caused death, it was in no way intentional and I do not want to foster any negative opinions about the agency. When we notified them and showed them pictures, they expressed sincere disappointment, and immediately ordered the bolts needed to properly attach the sign, so this hopefully will not happen again.


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