P & R Areas - Nature Learning Center

Nishna Bend's Nature Center houses an educational center, meeting room, and the Naturalist's office. The educational center displays mounted animals such as hawks, owls, a bobcat, deer, coyote, turkey, waterfowl, a skull collection, and a variety of live animals. This center is open to the public during regular business hours. It is also frequently used for school field trips. Here is a link to the Nature Learning Center's Education Guide.

The meeting room has eight tables with seating for thirty-five people. This meeting room also provides its users with a refrigerator, microwave, sink, restroom, television, and VCR. The regular rental cost is $75. Those interested in renting the meeting room should contact the Conservation Board Office at 744-3403.

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About the Naturalist

On July 31, 2001 the Shelby County Conservation Department began employing a new Naturalist, Christina Roelofs. She works part-time in Shelby County and part-time in Audubon County. Christina grew up in Sibley, Iowa (Northwest part of the state) with her parents, younger brother, and younger sister. She graduated from Sibley-Ocheyedan High School in 1997; then went on to college at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. At Northwestern Christina majored in Biology-Environmental Science and graduated in May 2001. Before coming to Shelby and Audubon Counties she worked for Osceola County's Conservation Department for six years at Willow Creek Nature Center. Christina has always enjoyed outdoor activities such as fishing, camping, and hiking, leading her to choose the Environmental Science major. She loves teaching others about the environment, so she became a naturalist.

What the Naturalist Does

The main focus of the Naturalist's job is environmental education. The Shelby County Conservation Department focuses their environmental education efforts on elementary and middle school aged students. The Naturalists goes into the schools or conducts field trips to teach students about the environment and all of the plants and animals that make up the environment. She also does programs for nursing homes, 4-H, Lions Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, various other organizations, and the general public. Another aspect of the Naturalist's job is public relations. Christina is in charge of a quarterly newsletter, Nature's Niche, a newsletter for Shelby and Audubon Counties' Conservation Departments. She has written articles for area newspapers and spoken with reporters when news happens. Other parts of the Naturalist's job include Nature Center upkeep and website maintenance.

Eastern Screech Owl

On December 26, 2002 the Shelby County Conservation Board was able to get an injured screech owl to use for environmental education purposes in Shelby and Audubon Counties. In order to keep a live screech owl we needed to obtain both state and federal permits. The permit process took about three months, but we do have the permits so we were able to get the owl. The owl will be housed at Nishna Bend Recreation Area’s Nature Learning Center in an indoor cage.

Screech owls are one of the most common owls found in Iowa. They are also one of the smallest, standing only eight inches tall, with a twenty-one to twenty-two inch wingspan. They prefer to live in areas with lots of trees where they can find a hole for nesting. Male screech owls defend breeding territories. The males hop, bow, snap their beaks, and give food to females to attract a mate. If the female likes the display, she will chose a cavity in the male’s territory for breeding. Screech owls do not build nests. They form a depression in whatever material is present in the cavity. The female lays two to seven eggs and incubates them for twenty-six days. The only time the female leaves the cavity during incubation is at dawn and dusk for feeding. Screech owls tend to be monogamous and will mate for life.

Like all owls, screech owls are birds of prey. They feed on insects, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and birds. Screech owls hunt while they are flying. The use their good senses of sight and hearing to locate their prey and dive down on it. They use their sharp claws called talons to capture their prey. Owls do not have teeth so they must swallow their food whole or rip it into chunks. Their stomachs digest everything they eat except for the fur, feathers, and bones of their prey. Several hours after they eat, owls regurgitate the fur, feathers, and bones of their food in a ball-like object called an owl pellet.

The owl that we have is probably a female. She has been injured (probably hit by a car) and cannot be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. Her left wing was broken and she was found with the fractures all healed up. She was very lucky to survive since she cannot fly. We were able to get the owl from a wildlife rehabilitator since she can't be released again. The owl is a red phase Easter Screech Owl. Eastern Screech Owls come in two colors, gray and red. A six feet by six feet by six feet cage has been constructed for the owl. It is mostly hardware cloth (screen) for easy viewing. Inside the cage are branches for perching, a hide box, a large water/bath dish, and a feeding shelf. The owl eats one to two dead mice or chicks per day. She has been named Avery because the scientific name of the group of birds is Aves and the place where a bird lives is called an aviary. She is a permanent fixture in the nature center so stop out and see her. If you don't see her she may be in her box or take a closer look. She will stretch herself out and put up her "ear tufts" to look like a branch.

Shelby County Mountain Lion

Shelby County's mountain lion is now at its permanent home in the Nature Center at Nishna Bend Recreation Area. He can be viewed during regular business hours, Monday through Friday 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. He can also be viewed by appointment.

The stomach contents of the mountain lion were tested by Iowa's Department of Natural Resources. The stomach was empty, so we were not able to determine what the mountain ate. The taxidermist did say that he found deer hair in the mountain lion's mouth.

Article from Nature's Niche Newsletter, Winter 2001-02