About Talking Talons Youth Leadership
Talons are the powerful claws of the bird of prey. Throughout human history the bird of prey has been stigmatized for its predatory nature. Today, through hunting, habitat destruction, agricultural pesticide use, and other human infrastructure, there is only a fraction of these magnificent animals with us today. Talking Talons holds two forms of wildlife permits that enable us the privilege of working with hawks, falcons and owls. A rehabilitation permit allowsus to accept injured or orphaned birds protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, rehabilitate and eventually release them back to the wild. If an injury or human imprinting makes release impossible, we may list the bird on an educational permit that allows us to possess the birds for use in educational programs that help build awareness of science, conservation and stewardship.
Talking is one of the culminations of our youth leadership training efforts. Our curriculum provides, among a variety of important life and social skills, formal training in public speaking. The students involved learn about each of the animals in the program, live and up close, then learn how to teach others, their peers, the animals’ stories and science. Public speaking has been cited as one of the #1 fears of adults. It is also one of the most valuable skills to learn, whether a child grows up to be an educator, politician, scientist, or entertainer. Talking Talons arranges opportunities for youth to perform live demonstrations with our birds, and talk about their science, biographies, their injuries and how they relate to larger environmental issues. Youth presentations involving live wildlife make powerful human animal connections, promote healthy lifestyles, advocate for the ethical treatment of animals, and describe hands on ways that anyone can become involved in conservation. Most importantly, youth presenters serve as positive role models for other youth. The messages: youth are VALUABLE RESOURCES in our community; youth can make a difference and affect their world positively; youth hold the potential to heal the planet and become leaders for the environment and voices for wildlife.
Where We Began
Talking Talons was founded in the fall of 1988 by Wendy Crouch Aeschliman, then serving as school nurse of Roosevelt Middle School in Tijeras, NM. As a Registered Nurse with a Master’s Degree in Education from Harvard University and a wildlife rehabilitator licensed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Wendy often gave community wildlife presentations to teach others about the live non-releasable birds of prey in her care. The Talking Talons program began as a means of motivating and supporting a small group of youth who frequently visited Wendy’s office with complaints of stomach or head aches, but in reality seemed frustrated due to their inability to successfully cope with the social and academic pressures of adolescence. Talking Talons was conceived with the purpose of raising the self-esteem in these students, placing them in roles they felt were important.
With a small burrowing owl named “Bo” and a few other educational animals, Wendy and the students embarked on a remarkable and successful journey, resulting in program expansion to many other schools in the succeeding years. Youth were captivated by the Talking Talons birds of prey, and developed an active interest in learning about environmental science and public speaking. Youth were trained to be peer educators, teaching environmental and civic responsibility through wildlife presentations which reached approximately three thousand in that first year alone.
Talking Talons Through the Years
The Talking Talons program at Roosevelt Middle School received the New Mexico Research and Study Council’s First Place Quality Education Award.
Talking Talons Youth Leadership was incorporated as a non-profit agency, under the initial guidance of Founding Board Members Catherine Foster, Jeanette Ricci, and Wendy Aeschliman.
Talking Talons Youth Leadership received a “Special Merit” award from Renew America, a national environmental organization based in Washington, D.C. Talking Talons was honored by leaders of the nation’s environmental community for its success in protecting the environment, inspiring others to take environmental action, and reaching community goals.
Talking Talons was one of 21 successful programs in the nation identified by the U.S. Department of Justice to be featured in their publication Youth, Drugs and Violence, Innovative State and Local Programs.
The first Talking Talons Leadership Center in Tijeras, NM, opened to house educational animals and administrative offices, as well as provide a location for field trips and other youth programming.
The Talking Talons Community Thrift Store opened its doors in Cedar Crest, NM, where it continues to sell local donated goods at low prices, with all proceeds benefiting Talking Talons animals and youth programming.
The Talking Talons Youth Conservation Crew organized the first annual WILDFEST event, a community education day featuring environmental educators, youth development organizations, live wildlife, and fun for all ages.
The national Center for Substance Abuse Prevention gave the Talking Talons program national recognition as an Exemplary Substance Abuse Prevention Program.
Youth Conservation Corps member Andrew Rominger was one of 10 youth in the country to win a 2003 President’s Environmental Youth Award in recognition of the environmental stewardship and advocacy skills he developed at Talking Talons.
The Talking Talons Leadership Center moved to its current location on Route 66, offering larger bird enclosures, an outdoor classroom for field trip groups, and access to the adjacent Cibola National Forest.