Nature's Balancing Act


Turning nature’s balancing act into art is one of the most popular Awesome Activities from on the pinboard-style website Pinterest. In the Food Chains and Webs activity, learners create a hanging mobile of animal images to explore how predator/prey relationships keep ecosystems in balance.

Predators are critical to the health of ecosystems, says wildlife educator Jarl Rasmussen. Without predators, prey species can overwhelm their habitats and rob other species of what they need to survive. Learners of all ages are fascinated by top predators like sharks, wolves and raptors, but don’t often have the chance to get up close to them. That’s why Rasmussen enlists live birds of prey as his "teaching assistants" at Lindsay Wildlife in Walnut Creek, CA.

With a hawk, owl or eagle perched on his gloved wrist, Rasmussen lets school and public audiences come face to face with apex predators of the sky. The leather gauntlet protects his wrist and helps him teach about how a raptor's sharp talons immediately lock the bird's grip on its prey. beaks to rip prey into bitesize chunks, and extra-large eyes that can spot prey more than a mile away. And like other top predators, raptors have complex hunting strategies. Golden eagles, for example, can hunt in pairs—one skimming closer to the ground at 50 miles an hour to flush out prey, the other diving from high above at 100 miles an hour to make the killing grab.

Rasmussen shares with learners the excitement he’s had about raptors since he was in third grade, and first met a barn owl at a public science demonstration. A raptor is intricately tied to the health of an ecosystem, he explains. The raptor's own survival depends on the availability of enough different kinds of prey, and the ecosystem's balance depends on the raptor to keep the population of different prey species in check. Despite raptors' hunting prowess, today they face increasing risk from collisions with human technology like airplanes and windmill blades, and human activity like use of poisons to control rodent populations. 

Planning future lessons or events about wildlife and ecosystems, including for National Wildlife Week? Learners can create a food web in What's For Dinner, role play as wolves in Wolf Survival, and get moving in the Food Chain has hundreds of animal-themed activities including explorations about predator/prey relationships and food chains/webs. 

(Lindsay Wildlife photo by Paul Hara)