This particular class had a bird dissection scheduled. This was quite controversial among the parents since the age range of the class was 2nd grade to 5th grade. We were concerned with our kids being as squeamish as we were! Personally, I was hoping my kids would be OK with doing the dissection because I would much rather they do it with a knowledgeable teacher than have me fumble through it with them in three years.
Many of the parents were talking about letting their kids opt out. I decided I would tell my kids that the class was about looking inside of a bird and not mention that they could skip it. Not because I would have forced them to go through it if they were very uncomfortable, but I wanted them to have the basic understanding that this was what was going to happen. If they had turned green or cried, I certainly would have allowed them to sit it out.
Neither happened. In fact, not a single kid, not even the young ones, was too squeamish to participate. Some were very eager! The object of the dissection was an immature red-tailed hawk. That was exciting for the adults as well as the kids. The bird had been starving when it found its way to the nature center and once it died back in October, they put it in the freezer. So the kids were not dissecting a preserved specimen, but a fresh, once it was defrosted (I find that really amusing), body.
The teacher first talked about red-tailed hawks in general. This nature center has a lot of taxidermy, and they passed around various parts (like wings and feet) from previously unfortunate birds. He spoke about its claws, eyesight, sound, size, and speed. He compared the wing to the wing from a plane. They showed how powerful the bird's wings were by using an actual wing and letting the kids feel how much wind it caused when it was flapped.
It was finally time to bring out the bird to be dissected. The bird was placed in a fairly large, deep tray with paper lining the bottom. There was no odor. The kids donned gloves and safety glasses. Because there was only one specimen, the children each took turns in different parts of the dissection. They lined up. The first part of the dissection involved removing the wings. So the first and second kids helped cut the wings off of the body. The teacher then spent some time ripping out feathers (which was very difficult--now I know why chicken carcasses are dipped in boiling water before stripping off the feathers--here is a pic of a skinned red-tailed hawk that I happened to find in a Google search.). The next students got to cut open the skin of the chest. More feather ripping.
I hope you will forgive the quality of the images below (whether they are too low res and out-of-focus for your tastes, or if they show too much!). I used my cell phone camera.
Hanover, picture below, first separated the skin from the flight muscles (breast) underneath.
Isn't the teacher brave? He's letting these kids use the scalpel and scissors with his whole body within arm's reach.
Then Hanover used scissors to cut through the ribs.
It's hard work to finish cutting and pulling out the breast plate!
Once the breast plate is removed, we can see the heart.
Here is Flurpee getting ready to cut out the heart. Dead give-away that she's going to be a heart-breaker. (Too many bad jokes?)
And again with the scalpel in the hands of someone who has only been cutting her own meat for a year.
The instructor finishes the removal of the heart (Flurpee was having a hard time using the scissors with those large gloves). Once the heart was out of the body, the instructor cut it in half so we could see that it was open inside.
The instructor showed us the gallbladder attached to the brown liver (a small green bump). He also showed us how the pink trachea, which had ribbing along its length, split to go into each lung. The lungs were a dark pink. He took out the trachea and showed us where the hawk makes noise. After the trachea was removed, we could see the esophagus, which was a flat, flexible tube, and traced it's path into the gizzard and stomach. He removed the stomach and we could see the intestines unravel and stretch to quite a length.
It was a great experience. I found myself more fascinated than many of the kids. All I could remember from frog dissection in 6th grade was not being able to differentiate any of the organs. This time it was quite easy. I am so glad that my kids were able to participate.