Eric Powers, known as Ranger Powers to many children, opened the door to the cage that held 195 bobwhite quails. Within minutes, the 8-week-old birds emerged and started foraging for bugs in the grass.
About 200 children and adults watched as the mass of birds made its way into Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown.
Powers said the birds are used to reduce the tick population on Long Island, including deer ticks, which can carry Lyme disease. About 10 school districts had raised the quails in their classrooms and gave them to Powers for the release. Powers, 42, of Smithtown, runs his own company, Your Connection to Nature, and partners with state and county parks on his quail project.
Christian Filagrossi, 6, waited with his family to see the quails released. He had helped raise the birds this past school year in Robin Obey's kindergarten class at Park Avenue Elementary School in North Merrick. He said he was happy to see them go, so they can eat ticks. "I got a tick once, and I hope I don't get it again."
After the release, several teachers were each given quails to let go in different areas of the park. "It connects kids to nature," Obey said. "We live in a world of technology, and this makes them care."
"I know they will have fun when they are released," said Kayla Rudnitsky, 6, who was also in Obey's class, "and have lots of places to eat."
Powers started monitoring ticks in the park in 1998. He took about 25 students on daily hikes and rarely found the bugs on them. But by 2001, he was counting up to 40 ticks per group.
He asked teachers and their schools to buy and raise local quails instead of nonnative ducks and chicks. Obey has raised quails in her classroom for six years. Powers said students are the "future stewards of the land."
"They are learning ways to appreciate the environment and how to keep it balanced," he said.