I admit it. I have yet to see partridge in a pear tree. I have seen a turkey on a fence, a great blue heron on a play set, and a groundhog in an apple tree. I love watching birds and other wildlife in my backyard. I recently asked my #KidsNeedMentors 4th grade class if they’ve ever watched birds in their yards. Sadly, most of them had not. Perhaps reading some of this month’s great list of bird books will get kids excited to look for birds on their own.
For this week’s post, I was inspired by three books that covered different bird-related topics.
Snowy Owl Invasion!
In this book, author Sandra Markle covers one episode in 2013, when snowy owls showed up in lots of places that were outside their normal range. Sightings by citizen scientists alerted researchers to this phenomenon. They were then able to take a closer look at the situation and determine what drove the owls to wander so far afield.
Woodpeckers: Drilling Holes and Bagging Bugs
Author Sneed Collard’s photographs illustrate this exploration of different types of woodpeckers. The book explains why woodpeckers do what they do, along with adaptations that allow them to do things that would injure other animals. (Namely banging their heads repeatedly against hard objects.) I especially loved that Collard included photo outtakes, proof that it takes many tries to get that one great photo.
Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird
This book is part of the Scientists in the Field series. It follows Gavin Hunt as he researches New Caledonian crows both in the field and in a research station. This book not only provided amazing information about crows. It raised questions about what sets humans apart from other animals. It looked into the age-old question of nature versus nurture. It also touched on different scientific methods. The book contained a combination of photographs and illustrations. I love that the illustrations were created by a graduate student working with Gavin.
These books could springboard into many interesting and fun activities. Here are just a few…
Be a Citizen Scientist
Citizen scientists play a big role in the collection of scientific data. It was citizen scientists who alerted researchers to the snowy owl “invasion” in 2013. There are many citizen science opportunities related to birds. One that my family has repeatedly participated in is the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC – https://gbbc.birdcount.org). The next GBBC is slated for February 14-17, 2020. When you sign up, you commit to watching birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more of the days. The sightings can be in your backyard, at the local park, or wherever you happen to be.
The GBBC website has lots of resources, including instructions for participation, bird guides, and a photo contest. It also explains why scientists need and how they use data collected through citizen science efforts.
This effort started as a joint effort between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, both of which have lots of great bird resources on their respective websites. The Cornell Lab powers All About Birds (https://www.allaboutbirds.org), an incredible online resource for anyone who is looking to find out more about birds.
GBBC is not the only citizen science opportunity related to birds. Cornell has a list of other projects here: https://www.birds.cornell.edu/citizenscience/about-the-projects. There are also lists of projects provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: https://www.fws.gov/birds/get-involved/citizen-science.php.
Keep a Bird Journal
While citizen science efforts mainly focus on counting birds, keeping a bird journal can be scientific, creative, or both. There is an interesting article that looks at the difference between field notes and journals in Bird Watcher’s digest – https://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/solve/howto/journal.php.
When keeping field notes, like in Crow Smarts, it is often important to know which individual animal is being observed. This means that it is important to take note of size, coloring, and identifying marks associated with a specific individual. Behaviors and vocalizations may be specific to one particular individual. This may not represent the species as a whole.
In bird journaling, it is up to the individual keeping the journal to determine what is important. This can be an opportunity to practice some artwork or come up with a story inspired by bird activities.
As I was reading Crow Smarts, I loved the names the author and researchers gave to the various birds. Names like Little Feather and Crow We Never Got Around to Naming made me smile. What names would you give to birds you observe and why?
Build a Bird House
Specifications for bird nesting boxes vary from species to species. Check out this page from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for information about building and placing bird houses in general, as well as some specific dimensions for different bird species: https://www.fws.gov/birds/bird-enthusiasts/backyard/homes-for-birds.php.
The Cornell Lab has a good resource for bird houses here: https://www.birds.cornell.edu/k12/educators-guide-to-nest-boxes. This points to a page on NestWatch – https://nestwatch.org/learn/all-about-birdhouses – that includes plans for a long list of specific birdhouse plans. I love that this gives specific instructions not only for how to build a box, but also how to mount it.
Make a Bird Feeding Station
Just like people, birds have to eat. Making a bird feeding station could be as simple as setting out the right food to attract a certain type of bird or as involved as designing and building a bird feeder. This could be turned into an engineering challenge by providing students with raw materials and specifications for a bird feeder. It could be a research opportunity, where students have to figure out how to attract specific bird species. They would need to figure out where to place the feeder and what to stock it with.
The Cornell Lab has a recipe for bird seed “cookies”: https://www.birds.cornell.edu/k12/make-your-own-feeder. These could be used to decorate a tree with cookies shaped to match whatever holiday a class or family happens to be celebrating.
If you poke around the internet, you can find lots of ideas for different kinds of bird feeders. Here are a few to get you started. (And keep in mind that you can usually substitute sunflower butter for peanut butter if you have a peanut-allergic person to keep safe.)
A pinecone bird feeder: http://goexplorenature.com/2010/02/fun-friday-make-pinecone-birdfeeder.html
Tin can bird feeder: https://www.momtastic.com/diy/crafts-for-kids/175891-tin-can-bird-feeder-craft-diy
Milk carton bird feeder: https://www.allfreecrafts.com/recycling/containers/milk-carton-bird-feeder
I hope these activities got you thinking about ways you can take off with these bird-themed books.
Janet Slingerland loves learning about science, history, nature, and (well) everything, which she then turns into a book. She loves looking out the window next to her writing desk and seeing birds doing what birds do. Janet sometimes helps out with conservation projects – at left, she’s helping cut reeds to stock an insect hotel. To find out more about Janet and her books, check out her website: janetsbooks.com