Learning About Backyard Birds with The Earth is Hiring

Lisa Levez (guest blogger)

Who migrates south each fall travelling more than 1000 km in one day?  Today, it was Discovery’s Forest Kindergartner Geese! We saw two flocks of geese flying sort of V-like and practised similar V-like migrations between the classroom and the Discovery Nature Classroom during our Backyard Birds morning.

Still out on warm fall days, our seasonal wild pick, was the woolly bear caterpillar.  Unlike most other caterpillars, they hibernate as a caterpillar (in the winter) under leaves or ground cover – and can freeze and survive.  In the Spring, the ‘bear’ turns into a ‘tiger’, when they form their cocoons and hatch as the Isabella Tiger Moth. Our native cuckoo birds eat woolly bear caterpillars, many other birds don`t like their hairy texture and opt for a different meal.

Forest kindergartners practiced spotting a robin with their handcrafted paper binoculars.  Once stamped for the bird tour, we started our bird food scavenger hunt, by the bird feeders.

We added a few upcycled feeders (made from a coffee tin, a milk carton and an avocado mesh bag – suet holder).  We learned that goldfinches eat milkweed seeds and build nests with the soft seed tufts. Friends each took a common milkweed seed pod, separated the seeds from their hairy tufts, and collected the seeds for planting a monarch butterfly garden in November.

We did not spot any birds at the feeders, but we looked at the Project Feederwatch bird poster and then migrated to the Discovery playground.  The gaggle of geese were chatty as they travelled. The forest kindergartners took turns, rotating, leading the flock of geese. While playing bird banding tag, Chelsa caught the birds, Michelle banded them and Lisa measured their wingspans and Lisa identified the birds.  After being tagged, each bird was banded as a backyard bird for the rest of the morning.

Stretching out our wings, we did a bit of wingarobics and then continued the scavenger bird food hunt.  We learned that nuthatches will wedge an acorn in a tree and hatch it open; that blue jays sometimes prey on other bird’s eggs and nestlings; that common grackles love corn; downy woodpeckers snack on insect larva that lives in goldenrod galls during the winter; cardinals eat cicadas; and many more fun bird facts!

Migrating back indoors, friends rotated through 4 learning groups.  Learning Stations Included:

1) Woodpeckers – kindergartners learned that the largest North American woodpecker, the pileated woodpecker, drums very loudly and quickly and how to drum softly and quickly like the downy woodpecker and that some woodpeckers drum as fast as 20 times a second!  Friends caught ants with long barbed woodpecker tongues.

2) Eggs and nests – kindergartners viewed robin, wren and chickadee nest samples and made their own hummingbird nests and eggs and matched their own bird`s eggs and guessed at a mystery egg.

3) Bird sounds – kindergartners attempted to mimic and learn 6 birds by their colours and sound and perched and sang or called like these birds.  Friends learned that blue jays mimic other sounds even the call of the red-tailed hawk!

4) Bird Food – kindergartners dressed up like bug bird food options (some tasty, some not so tasty and some that gave them belly aches) and decorated their binoculars.  During the winter, resident birds often change their diets eating a lot more seeds due to limited available bug food options.

We closed with a bird rap of calls and songs of the chickadee, jay, cardinal, goldfinch and the red-winged blackbird.  You can enjoy and help the birds this winter by joining Bird Studies Canada Project FeederWatch! ‘FeederWatch data help scientists track broad scale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.’  Join now for the 2017-18 season (http://feederwatch.org/) which begins November and runs through April each year.

You may also like to take part with the Kids Christmas Bird Count hosted by the NVCA at the Tiffin Center on Saturday, January 6th 9 am to noon.  Mark your calendar! Enjoy your winter birding!

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