BRASHER — Almost two decades after Mark A. Manske had his St. Lawrence Central students start a project, building habitats for the American kestrel in hopes of boosting the population of the smallest and most common falcon in North America, the project has come full circle, with students now making them for the former teacher.
Mr. Manske, the founder and owner of Adirondack Raptors inc., and former 27-year science teacher at the school, has been working since 2001 to help rebuild the kestrel populations, which he said is down to 50 percent and, in some places, down 98 percent.
Around the area he has 150 kestrel boxes hanging from utility poles. Those boxes have been rotated out with new boxes as they age and on Thursday, Mr. Manske returned to the school where he thanked a class of 16 students in Rick A. Newtown‘s woodworking shop class, who he said had done the lion’s share of making the latest batch of about 20 new boxes.
Mr. Newtown said the class had been working on smaller similar boxes and that when Mr. Manske called him to ask for the students’ help, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
“It’s the same structure, but now we can kind of put it into manufacturing a little bit,” Mr. Newtown said. “Then the element that this has been going on for so many years and it is such a great thing and the kids can be a part of it and they went right to town on it. It’s great for him to be able to come back and continue this. What about his dedication, huh?”
As Mr. Manske stood before the students, his natural pedagogue came out, as he gave the history of the kestrel’s decline and the history of the project.
“Since 1966, before you folks were born, almost before I was born, not quite, they started noticing kestrel populations throughout the world, especially on our continent, were starting to crash and they said, ‘what the heck is going on and what can we do?,’” Mr. Manske said. “Now over the years the population has been cut in half to about 70 percent gone.
That’s when he decided, in 2001, to begin building the boxes. He checks them for chicks and bands them so he can track their migration, from here to Florida in some instances, and their population, he told the students.
“So you’re part of a study, building these boxes, helping out a species that has actually been having major problems,” he told them. “So thank you very much for all you have done.”
And while the kestrel population continues to struggle in many parts of North America, Mr. Manske told the students their help has resulted in the kestrel population increasing eight times in the area since the start of their project, something that he said has drawn the attention of the non-profit Peregrine Fund, which works to save birds of prey from extinction.
“So actually, if you think about it, it’s kind of cool, old St. Lawrence Central High School, we’re actually one of the main reasons the kestrel populations is holding on.,” he said.
Mason A. Frary, 15, built six of the kestrel boxes he said the project was different than any other project the class has done. “It was really neat because I didn’t know how endangered they were, how much they have gone down in population and how much we helped them was pretty neat,” he said. They weren’t very hard to make at all, so it was pretty awesome. “Honestly, there’s a lot that you learn throughout this project about the birds,“ he said. “It’s pretty neat to just build them and him talking made us realize how much we helped out.”