By Stacy Walenter
Janie and Don Veltkamp of Birds of Prey Northwest brought a selection of seven birds to Libby Elementary School on Friday, April 27, a bird for each year that they have visited Lincoln County. The children saw Madeline the Merlin, Aurora the short-eared owl, Briar the red-tailed hawk, Bubba the great horned owl, Skybird the Swainson’s hawk, Pennington the peregrine falcon, and Dakota the golden eagle.
Janie Veltkamp was on her way to becoming a doctor before she fell in love with birds of prey. She had a four-year degree in nursing and ten years invested in schooling to become a doctor when she decided to take a break. During the break, she volunteered at a peregrine rehabilitation facility and suddenly her dreams of being a doctor were replaced.
“My mom is still mad I’m not a doctor,” Veltkamp said.
Now, instead of tending to people, Veltkamp tends to birds of prey who have either been injured or negatively affected by human interactions, rendering them incapable of living in nature. Injured animals are rehabilitated and returned to the wild when possible.
Their most famous bird, a bald eagle named Beauty, was the star of her own children’s book. Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3-D Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle details Beauty’s journey from having her beak shot off to the creation of her own prosthetic beak. Veltkamp co-authored the book with award-winning children’s author Deborah Lee Rose.
Last year, Libby Elementary students were the first in the country to hear the story before its August 2017 publication.
The book has been popular with children and educators alike, as it fits well into schools’ STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculums. It has recently won the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books, as well as the Cooke Prize.
The book not only teaches STEM principles, but also empathy and how to care for living things.
Now in their 25th year with Birds of Prey Northwest, the Veltkamps have 20 trained teaching birds that they take on tours and presentations. Veltkamp feels it is important to show the birds to children.
“The heart of our work is teaching kids to care about birds of prey,” Veltkamp said. “These birds belong to no one, and yet everyone. So, whose job is it to fix the eagle that’s shot? We tell the kids it’s their job.”
Veltkamp shares the importance of stewardship and the conservation of raptors. She tells children how peregrine falcons were nearly lost because of poisons sprayed on crops. She shares how raptors are bioindicators, falling victim to environmental hazards before humans do.
To care for the birds, the Veltkamps must get special permits from United States Fish and Wildlife.
Sometimes kids will ask her how much she gets paid. She tells them, “I’m not paid, but I am paid if they grow up to not kill birds. I want to show them there’s different currency than money.”
Birds of Prey Northwest is located in St. Maries, Idaho. They can be found on Facebook and at www.birdsofpreynorthwest.org.