The squirrel is the beloved mascot of Hickory Elementary School, but a new critter has captured the hearts of the school’s staff, students and community over the past few years.
Leonard and Penny, a pair of Canada geese, have taken up residence in an unassuming spot right in front of the school building. The pair has a nest in a small garden area not far from the sidewalk to the school’s main entrance and have returned to the spot to lay their eggs for the last three years in a row, Principal Bradley Stinar said.
“This is the third year in a row they’ve come back. When we first figured it out we weren’t sure what to do. I mean what do they need? My chief custodian brought a kiddie pool from home, filled it with water over next to the nest, put down some bricks like a walkway,” Stinar said.
“Penny never even payed attention to it. So instead we put up some posts and put some rope around it to section the area off so people would know and she didn’t care one way or another. Our art teacher made some signs and we put those up and everyone just kind of got involved.”
Staffers like Jan Stewart, a fourth-grade teacher whose classroom window at the time overlooked the nest, used the opportunity to educate her students about the birds and started keeping data on them.
“I think because my room at the time was on that side of the school with the nest right below my window,” Stewart said. “I showed it to the kids and we just started watching them. We were fascinated. Everyone in the building it seemed would come in to my room in the morning and try to see them out the window.”
Stewart is head of the school’s ecology club and added the geese to a nest watch website through Cornell Labs Ornithology so the students could learn how to track data about the birds.
“It was just an add-on fun thing and it got more kids interested,” Stewart said. “A few of the kids in my class that first year started actually their own table with dates and observations they were making themselves of the geese. It spread through the grade level. It was pretty cool to watch.”
Faye O’Brien, a music teacher at the school, started a Facebook page for Leonard and Penny. She explained that the geese showed up at a time when the TV show “The Big Bang Theory” was on everyone’s watch list and the names were a perfect fit. Once the school community realized the geese were watching over their eggs, it heightened everyone’s awareness of the pair.
“We were all very excited once we realized there were eggs and this was their spot to nest,” O’Brien said. “We became much more invested in it.”
The Facebook page was good place to post photos and educate the community about the geese’s presence so the nest was not bothered.
While Canada geese are not strangers to the area, this pair is captivating and entertaining the staff and students at the school for the third year in a row. Penny is sitting on seven eggs that are expected to hatch sometime in the next week or two.
“Last year, she hatched the eggs and they were gone over a weekend so I really hope it happens when the kids are here because I know they will really enjoy it,” Stinar said as he stood looking at Penny tucked away in the tall grass around her nest.