Students of Carson Valley Middle School witnessed a spectacle of nature Wednesday afternoon.
Working with the Wild Animal Infirmary for Nevada, Nancee Goldwater, a retired Douglas County animal control officer, brought three rehabilitated hawks to the school's field in hopes of reuniting the birds with their natural environment and in the process educate students about wildlife.
The hawks were found injured in the wild and were turned over to the organization for care.
One bird had hit the window of a woman's house. The infirmary kept the birds in captivity until they were healthy enough to return to the wild.
"I want students to learn to appreciate wildlife," Goldwater said. "Only through educating our children will future generations of wildlife have a chance."
With the hawk's talons gripped around her protective gloves, Goldwater walked through the crowd showing the bird to students.
"The birds are humongous," said ninth-grader Taryn Ross. "Their big talons look like they could hurt you."
Science teacher Heidi Landwehr said Carson Valley is a major migratory route for raptors.
"We can enjoy them while other areas can't," she said.
With a strong wind blowing, Goldwater balanced a Cooper's hawk on one forearm and a Swainson's hawk on the other, then threw her arms up to the sky. The birds spread their wings and lifted into flight. Students cheered.
The Cooper's hawk flew south, heading for some trees on the school's property. The Swainson's hawk headed east but caught some hard wind. The bird dipped, hit a chain-link fence at the end of the field and fell to the ground. Students cried out in shock, but the bird was OK.
"He wasn't ready, " said Goldwater. "We need to strengthen his wings more."
Goldwater reassured students the bird was fine, then prepared for her final launch.
The Red-tailed hawk had better luck. The bird flew well, heading south, and was last seen sailing over Highway 395.