As Marilyn Levand went to open the travel cage, she motioned for the students at Sterling Morton Elementary School to remain quiet.
“He doesn’t like a lot of loud noise,” the Lake Metroparks wildlife education manager said to the assembly in the gymnasium. “We don’t want to frighten him.”
As the students gasped in anticipation, an American bald eagle named Apollo emerged from the cage to perch on Levand’s gloved forearm.
“Everyone say hello to Apollo,” Levand said, followed by an excited chorus of “Hi, Apollo.”
The Apollo Project officially launched on May 18, the Metroparks’ first official offsite educational outreach program, with Apollo, “King of the Raptors,” serving as animal ambassador.
As the bald eagle hopped around his perch, fluttering, Levand spoke to the assembly about how Apollo came to be a permanent resident at Penitentiary Glen Reservation’s Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center in Kirtland.
“Apollo is a symbol of our nation, but once upon a time, he was just a fledgling, a young eagle in Perry,” she said. “As he began to fly on his own, he flew into another eagle’s territory. Eagles are very territorial and this caused a fight between Apollo and another eagle. Apollo broke his right wing as a result and he lost the ability to flex it. He couldn’t be released back into the wild because he can no longer fly. Due to the tight and tense muscles and ligaments, he can’t spread that wing.
“We received permission to keep him for educational purposes, which is why he is here today. He came to us in 2011. Every day we practice with Apollo and we’re able to educate adults and kids alike. It’s fun and a challenge for him because, like you, he’s very inquisitive and he learns every day. We’ve been able to train him with positive reinforcement using a lot of key words which lead to actions.”
Bald eagles suffered a drastic decline in the continental United States and were placed on the endangered species list due to hunting, deforestation and, primarily, the use of the pesticide DDT, which caused the thinning of their eggs. Since the chemical has been banned, the bald eagle population has made a dramatic recovery in recent years, which has also been aided by the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Apollo was one of three birds of prey the students were able to meet, the others being Acadia, a Northern saw-whet owl, and Cliff, a peregrine falcon. With keen vision, all three birds are excellent hunters, Levand said.
After the birds of prey presentation, each grade had the opportunity to visit seven interactive educational stations designed to help them understand the adaptations of eagles, their physical features, their conservation, nest building and the still existing threats to their population.
“The bald eagle became our national symbol in 1782 and it remains important that we understand…