Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

Some things just never get old.

During one of her wildlife shows at the Southern Illinois Celebration of National Hunting and Fishing Days at John A. Logan College in Carterville, Shofstall, who operates Free Again Wildlife Rehabilitation, walked behind one of several cages placed on a table.

With the exception of a cage holding a turkey vulture, audience members could not see what other critters would be in Shofstall’s lineup.

There was a palpable sense of anticipation when Shofstall opened the door to one of cages and reached inside. There was an audible gasp of surprise, not to mention awe, when she pulled a red-tailed hawk from the cage.

I’ve seen Shofstall’s shows a dozen times, but getting a birds-eye view of these magnificent creatures never gets old.

The small audience listened raptly as Shofstall walked about the tent, teaching about the habits and natural history of the red-tailed hawk. There wasn’t a whisper in the tent as Shofstall spoke.

Heads turned as she walked. Audience members were mesmerized by the hawk’s steely gaze, entranced by the grace and inherent power of the bird.

Once the red-tailed hawk was safely returned to its cage, Shofstall enthralled the audience with a tiny eastern screech owl and the most physically imposing barred and great horned owls. She closed the show with a crowd favorite, Rex, the turkey vulture.

There is an unfortunate commonality connecting the five birds she displayed — none of them will ever be returned to the wild. The screech owl is blind in one eye. The hawk had part of a wing shot off. The turkey vulture has imprinted on human beings.

While presenting a comprehensive lesson on the natural history of raptors, using the stunning creatures as props, Shofstall also imparts a strong ethical message. And, she does it in a way that leaves young and old nodding in agreement.

She asked the youngsters in attendance whether they had their own rooms. Hands shot up throughout the tent.

Next, she asked how many had a television in their room. Again, the hands shot up. Then, she asked about video games and other amenities. As a result of the questioning, the youngsters agreed their rooms were well appointed.

Then, Shofstall asked the kids how they would feel if they were forced to remain in their rooms indefinitely. The murmurs and furrowed brows told the story.

They had, of course, walked into the rhetorical trap Shofstall had masterfully set. She then pointed out that many of the birds they had just seen had been sentenced to life imprisonment because of the carelessness of man.

It doesn’t matter how plush a cage is, the animal is meant to be wild, Shofstall said.

When you’re looking a great horned owl in the eye, you know in your heart there is no counter argument.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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