Featured News - Current News - Archived News - News Categories

Hope Hartman works with students on identifying bones and other material found in owl pellets.
Hope Hartman works with students on identifying bones and other material found in owl pellets.

Eco Island offers 3rd graders opportunity to be scientists

Sat, Feb 24th 2024 07:05 am

Story and Photos by Alice Gerard

Senior Contributing Writer

Owls are unable to move their eyes in their head. If they want to see in another direction than forward, they must swivel their heads. Owl heads can swivel for at least 270 degrees. Owl eyes are huge, and owls are adapted to see well enough in the dark to hunt for mice, voles, and other small birds and animals. Owls are nearly colorblind because keen color vision is not essential for animals that are active mostly at night (nocturnal).

These were just a few of the facts about owls that third grade students from Kaegebein Elementary School were taught during a field trip to Eco Island, a nature center and science museum on Staley Road owned by the Grand Island Central School District. Those field trips occurred during the week of Feb. 12.

The students had a chance to be scientists for the morning by dissecting owl pellets. Owl pellets are masses of indigestible body parts of the food that owls consumed, such as bones, fur, feathers, claws, teeth, and the exoskeletons of insects. Because birds don’t have teeth, they swallow their prey whole. All indigestible body parts end up in the bird’s gizzard.

Dianne Tiede, a retired teacher and former director of Eco Island, explained, “If you were to eat an orange, there are going to be parts of it that you’re not going to be able to eat: the rind and the seeds. Those get spit out, and you would be eating the juicy parts.

“The (owl’s) gizzard takes care of what our mouths and teeth and tongues do.”

Occasionally, the bird regurgitates the pellets, which can be found near to where the birds perch, such as barns or under trees.

The exercise was very hands-on and, according to Tiede, meant to engage all students.

“The owl pellet dissections that we were doing today, everyone was involved,” she said. “Before that, even with the presentations, which were good, there were many who were involved, but not everybody.

“That’s one of the really nice things about hands-on experience. They all have a chance.”

Tiede said of one boy, who appeared to not listen during the presentation, “He had (found) a rat skull (in the owl pellet that he was dissecting). He was focused. That what I was hoping for, was for them engaging with what was there.”

Students focus on unraveling the secrets of owl pellets.


According to Hope Hartman, a retired teacher, who volunteered to help with the lesson, "They (the children) are going to go home and tell mom and dad something (about the lesson), instead of (the usual) ‘I learned nothing, school was boring.’ "

Another goal of the lesson was to stimulate the students’ curiosity about the natural world, as well as to discover a love for science.

“I want them to become enthusiastic about science and not be intimidated by science because it’s all around them, and they can do it,” Tiede said. “It may change their outlook a little bit when they go out into the woods or just in their neighborhood. ‘Look at that! I know I saw that!’ Or maybe they will recognize something here that they saw here. They go home, and they look at all the birds. That’s the hands-on part. We can’t do anything more hands-on than what we just did.”

The purpose of the field trip is “just to make them more aware of the world around them and maybe make them want to be lifelong learners.”

Hartman said she was surprised by the speed at which the students were able to complete their dissections: “I don’t normally have third grade classes here, so I wasn’t expecting things to get done fast. They were all able to do it. When you have younger kids, it takes longer.

“I try to get hands-on activities (for the kids to do when they visit Eco Island,” Hartman said. “It might not be doing a dissection. It might be looking into a bird house or it might be making tracks in the sand. From kindergarten on, some of the activities might stay the same, but they (the students) are coming with a lot more maturity.”

Both Tiede and Hartman talked about the uniqueness of Eco Island.

“I hope the Grand Island residents realize what a jewel this whole program and building is, thanks to Mrs. Tiede and the help of a lot of other people. She’s good at mustering people to help her,” Hartman said. “Other districts don’t have anything like this. This is all for the benefit of Grand Island students.”

“Fortunately, now that I’m retired, Cyndi Booker has continued and expanded what I started,” Tiede said.

Reporter’s note: Because of a family emergency, Cyndi Booker was unable to go to Eco Island on Feb. 16, when I visited. Tiede and Hartman were asked to fill in for her.

Dianne Tiede and Hope Hartman discuss the lives of owls. Types of owls that can be found in Western New York include screech owls, barred owls, and great horned owls.

Hometown News

View All News