DECATUR — Jeremy Mahoney loves birds and he loves to draw, so he’s been in his element the past few weeks.
Baum School art teacher Melissa Jacobson has been teaching a unit called Art and Nature, focusing on native birds of prey. Students have learned to make journals about their observations and have closely studied talons and beaks and feathers to make their drawings realistic.
"It’s exciting," Jeremy said. "I get to see new birds I've never seen before, and I get to draw, and I love to draw. Two favorite things mixed together, I think that’s pretty cool."
On Friday, Jacques Nuzzo and Jane Seitz of Illinois Raptor Center visited the school along with Scooter, a kestrel, Solo, a red-tailed hawk, and Banshee, a barn owl, to give the students a chance to draw raptors from live models.
Most of the students forgot to finish their drawings because they got so interested in what Nuzzo was telling them about each bird, and when Banshee flew from Seitz to Nuzzo and back again, the children were captivated.
“When you get like that, with your mouth open,” Nuzzo gently teased one child, “take that feeling and this (bird) and put it on paper. That is a wonderful talent.”
If it weren’t for nature artists who illustrate books about birds, Nuzzo said, people like him couldn’t learn about them in such detail. Photographs can’t capture the nuances of difference between one kind of kestrel and another, nor can you photograph the insides of a bird. Without his bird books, Nuzzo said, he wouldn’t know how to take care of the raptors at the center.
“If I didn’t have this,” Nuzzo said, holding up his well-used copy of the Manual of Ornithology, “I don’t know what I’d do.”
The project was paid for by a grant from Decatur National Audubon Society, Decatur Area Arts Council and the Illinois Arts Council. The students’ work will be on display at the Decatur Public Library from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 16, during the Decatur Audubon meeting.
Nuzzo brought wings, skulls and feet of various raptors for the children to handle and pointed out unique characteristics of the live birds for them to remember and use in their illustrations. He pointed out that birds of prey — and other animals who hunt — are darker-colored on top and lighter on the bottom, to help camouflage them from their prey. He even fed Banshee a mouse, after warning the kids not to watch if they were squeamish.
“Owls eat mice, hawks eat snakes, it’s just nature,” he said.