Michelle Wilson, an animal care specialist at Ijams, shared Narcissa, a grey rat snake, which she deemed the ultimate organic rodent-control measure. “They don’t pose a threat to us at all,” Wilson said as Narcissa coiled herself around her arm. It's educational opportunities like the summer morning at Ijams that bring a deeper understanding of the natural world to the general public, she said.
“A lot of people kill snakes out of fear,” she said. “They don’t know if they are venemous, because they haven't been around snakes enough to understand.”
Back at the bird-banding station, operations unfolded beneath the gaze of more fascinated gawkers. Data on weight, length, estimated age and plumage was relayed to a note taker, Clare Dattilo, a Seven Islands State Birding Park ranger who joined other state rangers in lending their expertise for the event.
“It gives us a lot of information on how long birds live, timing on migration, and when and where they are breeding,” Dattilo said and then paused to take a reading.
Ijams communications development director Cindy Hassil said the point of the day, including all the children’s activities, bird walks, demonstrations and animal rehab displays, was to inform and educate people not only about the majesty of the natural world, but its importance to our own wellbeing.
“Our whole goal is to inspire and educate people so they understand the importance of nature, pollinators, hummingbirds, all things wings, so they want to protect the planet and make sure these creatures continue to thrive,” Hassil said.
Ensuring these winged creatures thrive is an effort that might take most of our lives and beyond. Monarch butterfly populations (the festival focus includes these beautiful flying insects because East Tennessee is on an important monarch migratory pathway), for instance, have experienced a precipitous decline of as much as 80 percent, said Stephen Lyn Bales, a naturalist and Hellbender Press contributor who spoke at the event and plans a story on the unfortunate state of monarch butterflies.
But hope springs eternal in the eyes and hearts of the children who for a moment pressed toward a table in the South Knoxville woods for just a glimpse of a hummingbird before it flew out of reach and out of sight.