Sunday, March 24, 2013

Back Yard Birds

While visiting my parents today, my dad shared an article from a local newspaper about many people in the region noticing a decline in bird populations over the winter. People were wondering where the birds went and why they weren't feeding in their yards. 

Maybe because they're in our yard! It's been like a bird sanctuary here throughout the winter.

My husband has been passionate about feeding and observing the birds this winter. He maintains four large feeders and one smaller one and buys a 50-pound bag of black oil sunflower seed every two weeks. In addition to maintaining a food supply, he also built a number of structures in our yard that make excellent singing perches. (If you build it, they will come!) He spends a lot of time observing the birds and their habits and has even persuaded chickadees to eat from his hand - which is why I sometimes refer to him affectionately as "Saint Francis."

Are you familiar with the Enchanted Tiki Birds at Disney World's Magic Kingdom? Well, we have enchanted tipi birds. They perch on the top of our open tipi and sing to the morning sun.

On any given day, we will see: chickadees 

and cardinals

and goldfinches

and mourning doves

and downy woodpeckers like this one that gets food from the feeder and brings it to its perch to enjoy.

Blue jays had been absent for quite some time but recently made a reappearance.

We also have identified dark-eyed juncos, sparrows, pileated woodpeckers, house finches, tufted titmice, and nuthatches around the yard.

However, this harbinger of spring has yet to grace us with its presence:

Bird Study in the Classroom

I incorporate my nature and wildlife photography into the kindergarten science curriculum and never cease to be amazed by the children's ability to identify different types of birds at such a young age. We talk about how the female birds tend to have duller colors than the males and the purpose this serves. I tell them stories of kayaking past a nest and how the colorful daddy bird would fly around wildly in an attempt to draw my attention away from the nest. We also watch a few YouTube videos of birds building their nests and caring for their newly hatched babies. We categorize different kinds of birds as flying or non-flying (attributes selected by the children) and discuss how quickly new birds are ready to leave the nest in comparison to human children. We talk about how we can put nesting materials - like hair from a hairbrush - outdoors for the birds to use.

We also do a bird's nest art project that involves painting, coloring, and then constructing a nest scene with a variety of materials and lots of glue. 

Materials needed:
  • 1 white paper plate per child
  • Sky-toned tempera paint (diluted slightly)
  • Brown tempera paint (diluted slightly)
  • Bird coloring sheets and crayons (for paper birds)
  • Felt and wiggly eyes (for felt bird variation)
  • Nesting materials (all earth-toned): bagged Spanish moss, twigs, feathers, cotton, wool, yarn, shredded strips of paper, etc.
  • White glue (i.e. Elmers)
  • Hot glue gun
  • Watercolor paper or felt (for eggs)
  • Egg-toned watercolor paint (for paper eggs)
  • Paintbrushes
  • Diluted brown tempera paint (for speckled eggs)
  • Toothbrush (for speckled eggs)
  • Scissors
  • Hole punch
  • Raffia

The first step is to paint one half of the plate sky blue. Last year, we left the other half unpainted, but this year we painted that half brown.

Next, the children select their favorite bird as the subject of their paper plate collage. Last year (photo on left), I cut out felt birds, but this year (photo on right) the children colored their favorite birds with crayons, paying attention to detail. After gluing the bird to the top of the brown half, it is time to build the nest.

Before  assembling the nest, I show them several containers filled with different materials, and they determine which materials would appeal to nesting birds. They "think like a bird" and try to select materials that will keep the nests as safe and concealed as possible. Not wanting to attract the attention of a hawk, they pass on the brightly colored materials. 

Working with one or two children at a time, I cover the brown (or plain) half with white glue, and then they arrange moss over the glue. After the moss, they can choose other materials. I follow each layer with more glue so everything will stick together when it dries. (Wax paper is useful for pressing down the nest materials after each layer.) It's a messy project, and the children find it very humorous that I end up looking like a bird's nest by the time they have all completed their projects!

After the scene has dried overnight, we're ready to add the eggs. I have used both felt and paper eggs. This year, the children painted swatches (approximately 4" x 4") of sturdy watercolor paper after looking at pictures of different kinds of eggs. The robin's egg paper is painted light blue with watercolors. The goldfinch and cardinal egg papers are splatter painted with diluted tempera paint using a toothbrush. (Rub a finger gently along the bristles to "speckle" the paper.) The blue jay eggs were first painted a faint yellowish-brownish-greenish shade using watercolors and then were speckled with the brown paint we used for the goldfinch and cardinal paper. After the paper dries, I cut out the eggs (because they seem a little small for the children to manage). Then I have the children select and arrange three eggs on their nest, and I adhere them with hot glue.

Then I finish them by punching a hole at the top and attaching raffia for hanging. 

~    ~    ~

My most gratifying moments in the classroom are when I am able to connect children with nature in a meaningful way. Discussing what is going on here-and-now in the natural world inspires children to pay more attention to the world around them. 

So we shall continue to await the robin's return. And I look forward to the day when the first child approaches me excitedly with a personal account of spotting one. 

Because we are very ready for spring!

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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